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1ST. LT. JAMES B. CHRISTEN

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James Bruce Christen was born April 24, 1921 to Bruce and Alice (Jackson) Christen in Decatur, Indiana. He was one of the youngest of eleven children ( [not in birth order] Daniel, Martha, Jeanette, William, Harriet, Robert, Helen, Ruth, Dorothy, and Laura). The whole family lived in a little house on Winchester Street. His father worked at the Norfolk and Western Railroad Station in the warehouse, and died in his forties (most likely of a heart attack) while James was young. Later on, James became engaged to be married to Genevieve Wendell of Chattanooga, Ohio.Christen3.jpg
James was the president of his senior class at Decatur High School in 1939. He was a member of the Knights of Pythias at the Kekionga Lodge #65 in Decatur, IN. The Knights of Pythias is an international fraternal order working to achieve universal peace. The building that housed the Kekionga Lodge is no longer owned by the Knights of Pythias, so the organization is not active in Decatur, Indiana. James joined at the age of 19 and was initiated into the Rank of Page on September 14, 1939, the Rank of Esquire on September 28, 1939 and was Knighted on October 5, 1939. He was elected Master of the Work on January 1, 1940 and Chancellor Commander of his lodge on July 1, 1940 and served until December 31, 1940, when he became a Past Chancellor. He held a job at the Decatur Daily Democrat as a mail carrier while he attended high school, and later worked part time the Stults Home Grocery, like his brothers Daniel and William.

He enlisted in the service June 18, 1941 in the Army Air Corps and reported September 4, 1941 at Fort Benjamin Harrison as an aviation cadet. James enlisted first, with his brother Daniel enlisting in 1942 and his brother William enlisting in 1943. He was first trained at Maxwell Field, Alabama. He was then sent to Turner Field, Georgia, where he received his wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in May of 1942. He was also trained in Fort Benning, Georgia; and Stout Field, Indianna.

James was sent overseas to North Africa November 1942. Here he became a First Lieutenant, and a Christen4.jpgpilot of a C-47 transport plane shortly after his arrival. He was first stationed at El Adem, just south of Tobruk. He stayed here about three weeks carrying supplies from Tobruk to more advanced stations. From there on into Tripoli he moved up behind Rommel, sometimes less than 24 hours after a site there had been bombed by the Germans.

On July 11, 1943, while flying his plane into Sicily with supplies and paratroopers from Tunisia during Operation Huskey, James' C-47 plane (known as the Hoosier Hot Shot, tail number 41-18606) was shot down by friendly fire as a result of following up behind a group of German airplanes that had just been fired upon. In thirty minutes, twenty-three transport planes total would be shot by friendly fire, and many paratroopers jumping from these planes were shot by Americans believing them to be German paratroopers. Operation Husky was the code name for the Allied Invasion of Sicily. The invasion allowed the Allies to take Sicily from the Axis Powers and create a foothold for the Allied Invasion of Italy. The operation started July 10, and after a day of heavy fighting, the decision was made to reinforce the Allied troops with 2,000 additional paratroopers from the North Africa reserves. The 1st and 2nd Battalion, 504th Paratroop regiment, a company from the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, and the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion were sent in to reinforce the troops in Sicily. James, piloting the Hoosier Hot Shot, was aboard with co-pilot 2nd Lieutenant Wilber Kenneth Alley, navigator 1st Lieutenant Peter A. Borsa, crew chief Technical Sergeant Cecil R. Cooke, Radio Operator Sergeant Frank F. Geurner, and ten paratroopers of the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. The paratroopers aboard were Sgt. Verne D. Bailey, Pfc. Elmer L. Elliott, Pvt. Lewis L. Alberts, Pvt. Jesse H. Miller, Pvt. William L. Money, Cpl. Jack Valentic, Pvt. Charles A. Marenghi Jr., Pvt. Archie G. Soderling, Pvt. William L. Walker, and Pvt. Drew M. Blaines Jr. The airplane was on fire when a few of the paratroopers managed to jump from the plane, and only Elliott, Valentic, Marenghi, and Baines survived. Valentic was stationed to jump from the plane first, but after it was hit, he was thrown out of the plane from the impact. Another C-47
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The "Hoosier Hotshot" C-47, piloted by Lt. Christen at the time of his death (Lt. Christen not shown).
collided with the plane in effort to avoid being hit by the machine gun fire below, and both crashed on Pantano D'Arcia, between Punta Secca and Scoglitti in Sicily. The C-47 that crashed into James' plane was burnt up, and only had one surviving paratrooper. James was only twenty-two years old when he died.

James's memorial was held at 3pm on a Sunday at his local Presbyterian church. Planes were flown over Decatur in memorial. The Knights of Pythias lodge even created a memorial in his honor, though due to that lodge no longer being located in Decatur, the memorial is gone.

James earned many awards for his services, and a few were awared after his death. He was awarded the WWII Victory medal (for service between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946), the Purple Heart (awarded to those who were killed in the service), the American Defense Service Medal (for active service between September 8, 1939 to December 7, 1941), the American Campaign medal (for service within the American theater), and the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal (for performing duty in the European theater).

After his death, James was awarded the Air Medal ( one of the nation's highest decorations). The ceremony took place at Baer
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Air Medal awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.

Field Base in Fort Wayne, and his award was one of the nine given that day. He was awarded for participating in a night aerial flight in a troop carrier command ship that was unarmed, unarmored, and unescorted at a height of less than five hundred feet in adverse flying conditions. Baer Field commandment, Robert L. Copsey, presented the medals to the relatives for the nine soldiers distinguished service in combat above and beyond the line of duty.

James was first buried in a temporary grave in Gela, Sicily on July 29, 1943, reburied at Paestum on April 10, 1947, and at request of his family was later transferred to his permanent resting place in the Decatur Cemetery, Decatur, Adams County, Indiana, USA. His body was returned to the states aboard the United States Army transport Carroll Victory with 4,842 other bodies of army men killed in Italy, 120 of which were Indiana residents.

Information researched and collected by Shelby Nower, 2014.

SOURCES:
Adams, Dennis. "Inquiry." Message to the author. 15 Sept. 2014. E-mail.
"Air Cadet." Decatur Daily Democrat Nov.: Print.
Anderson, T. C. Certificate Searching Sicily. Mediterranean Zone: American Graves Registration Services, 14 June 1948. PDF.
Army Air Force. Missing AirCrew Report 694. Washington: War Department, 10 Apr. 1946. PDF.
Bos, Jan. 41-18606. PDF.
Bos, Jan. Sketch Flight Lt. Christen. PDF.
Bos, Jan. "World War II Information." Message to the author. 14 Sept. 2014. E-mail.
Christen Family. "James B. Christen." Personal interview. 16 Sept. 2014.
"Confirm Death of Lieut. Christen." The Berne Witness. 1 Sept. 1943: Print.
Cox, Jim. "James B. Christen." Find A Grave Memorial.15 July 2009. Web. Sept. 2014.
Doc. 180 Inf. Regt. 45 Inf. Div. PDF.
Ikvrah, William F., 1st Lt. Report of Casualties. U.S. Army, 17 July 1943. PDF.
Indiana Historical Bureau, comp. Gold Star Honor Roll: Adams County. Bloomington: Indiana War History Commission, 1949. Print. Vol. 1 of Indiana in World War II.
"Lieut. Christen Death Confirmed." Decatur Daily Democrat 31 Aug. 1943: Print.
Lt. Wilber K. Alley. National Archives, PDF.
MacFarland, James C. Correspondence Charles A. Marenghi. War Department. PDF.
MacFarland, James C. Correspondence Elmer Elliott- Survivor. War Department, 3 July 1947. PDF.
MacFarland, James C. Correspondence Jack Valentic- Survivor. War Department, 3 July 1947. PDF.
Peter A. Borsa. N.p.: National Archives. PDF.
U.S. Army. Casualty Report Husky. 17 July 1943. PDF.
U.S. Army. Image Crashed C-47. 9 October. PDF.
Valentic, Jack. Jack Valentic's Story to Jan Bos. 11 July 1943. PDF

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