Remember When: Third Catrett son killed in line of duty
Published 2:00 pm Friday, October 20, 2023
Robert Evers of the Covington Veterans Foundation recently penned a story about two brothers in one family from Andalusia who were killed in World War II – John Wylie Catrett killed in North Africa in 1943, shot by a sniper as he was escaping a burning tank, and Jimmy Jackson Catrett who died on Peleliu Island in the South Pacific in 1944 where Marine and Army divisions fought to capture an airfield on the coral island.
A September 1953 Andalusia Star News article reported that the sorrow for the family of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Jackson Catrett of 320 Stewart Street was compounded in early August when a third son, Staff Sergeant Roy Catrett, a veteran of Korea, was aboard an Army bomber that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on a routine training flight to Europe. Mrs. Catrett had already been included on a list of Gold Star Mothers of the Covington area in 1947 as compiled and filed in the records of the Andalusia Post Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
A native of Andalusia, Pvt. Roy Catrett had been a student at Andalusia High School and was later graduated in August 1947 from the United States Army Air Force Communications School at Scott Field, Illinois with top honors in his class as Radio Operator.
Catrett was described in a news release as “a splendid example of men now serving with the new regular Army Air Forces.”
Catrett had been on active service with the Army Air Forces since his date of enlistment at Maxwell Field, Alabama on September 16, 1946. He served as Pvt. with the San Antonio, Texas Army Air Base. At completion, the course qualified him to become a technician to operate and maintain the air and ground communications equipment for the Air Forces.
Arriving on Okinawa in October 1947 for his first overseas assignment, Catrett performed duty as a radio operator with the 1962nd Airways and Air Communications Service Squadron of the 13th Air Force. Airman Roy Catrett was promoted in 1949 to the rank of Sergeant, the 13th Air Force Headquarters announced.
The Andy Hi-Lite October 1, 1950 edition reads, “Several graduates have entered the business of marriage…….Margaret Jane Cremer who works in Doctor Juanita McDonald’s office to Roy Catrett. Margaret Jane’s husband is now in Korea with the Air Force.”
The June 22, 1950 edition of The Andalusia Star News reported, “The marriage of Miss Margaret Jane Cremer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Cremer, and Sgt. Roy Catrett took place at a ceremony of beauty and simplicity at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Oscar “Bud” Catrett in Montgomery. The wedding was performed in the presence of the families and close friends of the couple……Following the ceremony, Sgt. Catrett and his bride left on a short honeymoon before going to Eglin Field, Florida where Sgt. Catrett is stationed.”
The August 6, 1953 edition of The Andalusia Star News reported, “Hopes Are Held for Roy Catrett – The former Margaret Cremer, told her mother Mrs. J. J. Cremer by long distance telephone that her husband (Staff Sgt. Roy Catrett) was among fourteen members of the crew aboard the plane that is missing. Catrett had been stationed at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento, California for about two years after spending one year in Korea. His wife was with him in California. She could give no information about whether her husband was a survivor even though an English ship had picked up one dead man at the crash scene and had seen five others on a raft.”
August 13, 1953 – “Hopes Dimmed for Roy Catrett – Hope waned this week for Staff Sgt. Catrett who was serving as a radar man aboard the ill-fated Army bomber that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean last week. It was eight hours after the accident before the first survivors were spotted.”
October 8, 1953 – “Coolness of Sgt. Roy Catrett Before Atlantic Crash is Lauded – Mrs. Roy Catrett, widow of the Andalusia airman who died in the crash of a bomber on August 4, has received letters from her husband’s commanding officer and chaplain expressing regret over the tragedy.”
Captain William Vinyard in relating his connection with the incident and efforts that were made to save the crippled plane that went into the icy sea some 500 miles west of Ireland wrote, “That radio operator, Sgt. Catrett, had been in contact with my plane for 50 minutes before it crashed. I had been flying 88 wives and children of American servicemen across the Atlantic in a Slick Airways DC-6B when informed from London that a plane in my vicinity was in trouble. The radio operator on the Air Force plane told us he had two engines afire and one not giving any power – all on the right side. When we asked him how desperate the situation was, he answered: ‘Oh, I think we’ll make it. We’re heading for Shannon, Ireland.’ Twenty minutes later, we heard the order to jump. That radio operator was marvelous. He talked as calm as if he was discussing the weather. We all marveled at how cool he was.”
“The Vinyard plane plotted the position for other rescue ships who circled the area without sighting any wreckage or lifeboats. They had to depart when their gas ran low.”
Star News Editor Ed Dannelly wrote, “Those of us who are sometimes prone to overlook or forget the glories of freedom that we enjoy in a Democracy might stop for a moment’s thought about one Andalusia family. Now, this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew J. Catrett, has put three sons on the altar of service to our country. Who has ever done more?”
In researching the information for this column, I obtained stories from several living relatives of this family including Robert Cremer, brother of the late Margaret Jane Cremer Catrett; Billy and Joyce Catrett, son and daughter of yet another Catrett brother, William O. Catrett.
It turns out that the brother W. O. Catrett was also in the Army during WWII, a fourth brother of this same family. He was one of the soldiers that landed in the invasion of Normandy on Utah Beach. He made it to Montpellier, France, was wounded, was sent to Birmingham, Alabama to recover, then was sent back to Europe. W. O. known around these parts as “Cat” was an Andalusia native and well-known local law enforcement officer for many years with the ABC Board.
I asked his daughter, “How did your dad handle through the years having lost three brothers in their terms of military service?” She said, “In silence.”
When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was released in 1998, one of Cat’s friends called him up, she stated, and told him about it. He quickly told the well-meaning friend, “One time living through that was enough!” I guess that is why his friend, my daddy, also a WWII veteran, never wanted to visit Pearl Harbor or the Pacific Islands for any of those post war Navy reunions.
Another way of looking at this situation which should inspire us all – Here’s how he handled his plight in life. Veteran Mr. W. O. Catrett worked at a responsible and successful job in law enforcement, had a lovely and supporting wife, two outstanding children who went on to significant professional careers, a host of friends, and a home bought and eventually paid for.
The obituary of Mr. A. J. Catrett, father of the four sons, published in the June 23, 1960 Andalusia Star News reported that Catrett age 68 was a retired timber cruiser survived by his wife Ida, his son, W. O., two daughters, two sisters, a step-brother, and seven grandchildren. Personnel of the Covington County Sheriff’s office, the Andalusia City Police Department, the State Highway Patrol, and officers of the A.B.C. Board were present at the last rites where final tribute was paid at the Old Union Primitive Baptist Church near Burnt Out with burial in the Brantley Cemetery.
It is remembered by their descendants that Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Catrett were parents of 13 children born during the 1920s and 1930s. Only 6 lived to adulthood. Four boys in the military in the 1940s and 1950s with one surviving – some record, wouldn’t you readers agree?
As the Covington Veterans Foundation strives to never forget the veterans, living and dead, who so bravely served our country, this 2023 Veterans Day story is to honor and pay tribute to these four brothers and to the Catrett family.
“Those we love don’t go away. They walk beside us every day – Unseen, Unheard, but always near, Still loved, Still missed, and very dear.”
— Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a former choral music teacher, real estate broker, and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at email@example.com.