Friday, May 24, 2013

AN AMERICAN HERO - Irving E. Narter

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to find out the story of someone who made the Supreme Sacrifice for our freedom.  Walking around cemeteries as I do, I have come across literally hundreds of tombstones marking the graves of those who gave their lives in the service of our country.  Telling the story of one does not diminish the sacrifice of the others.  Some were killed in action, some were killed by disease.  Some died close to home, some thousands of miles away from home.  Sometimes there were remains to send back home for burial, sometimes there was not a trace. One thing all of these brave men and women have in common - they all died too soon.  

Most of the porcelain photos that are mounted on tombstones at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery are black and white, so when you encounter a color photo you stop and take a second look.  Walking along the path that divides Gate 15 - B'nai Moshe Congregation, your eyes are immediately drawn to a color photo of a handsome young man in uniform:

His monument is elegant in its simplicity:

Beloved Son
Born May 7, 1920
Died Nov 3, 1943

Underneath a sprig of ivy are the following verses:

These are the eyes that smiled at life
When the river of peace ran calm and deep
Eyes that gleamed with the light of hope
Eyes now closed in the endless sleep.

Here is the heart that held a dream
Of life and love in a world of joy
The heart of a lad that sand all day
Now sad and still as a broken toy.

Folded the arms that were made to hold
A loved one close in a fond embrace.
Quiet the feet that in childhood ran
To meet the sun in an eager face.

Where is the soul of this gallant boy
Where has it wandered beyond the skies
Has it gone to dwell on a higher plane
With the spirit of one who never dies?

Let's see what we can find out about the gallant hero Irving Narter.

Irving Edward Narter was born Isaac Narter on May 7, 1920 in Chicago to Louis B. Narter (1884-1958) and Beatrice nee Schaffer (1895-1960).

Irving joined his older brother Sidney (1919-2002) and Beatrice's children from a previous marriage:  Frances (1914-2002), and Sam (1917-).  Younger brother Bernard arrived on November 11, 1922 (1922-).  In 1928 his mother filed a Certificate of Correction indicating that Isaac's name should actually be Irwin Narter:

The family name was originally Natofsky, and they came to the US from Russia in 1875.

Beatrice Schaffer, also know as Rebecca Schaffer had married Sam Gross on January 13, 1912 when she was just sixteen.  As I mentioned, Frances came along in 1914.  In 1916, with Beatrice pregnant with their second child, tragedy struck the young family.  Here's the story from the Chicago Daily Tribune of May 15, 1916:

Later it was found that the horse was spooked, and ran wild.  The wagon turned over on Sam, and he was killed.  It was originally thought that there may have been a robbery, but Sam's money was still in his pocket when his body was searched.  Beatrice ended up a young widow who was going to have a baby.

William Samuel Gross was born in Chicago on July 12, 1916.

Things got much better for Beatrice and her two children when Beatrice married Louis Natofsky on September 25, 1917:

The 1940 Census shows the Natofsky family (now called "Narter") living at 2056 N. Sawyer in Chicago:

2056 N. Sawyer, Chicago

Louis was a collector for the Union; twenty-one year old Sidney was an apprentice in a print shop; nineteen year old Irwin was a clerk in a department store; seventeen year old Bernard was still in school. Frances had married truck driver Hyman Ruthman and they had a two year old son Stuart.

Anticipating that war was imminent, Irwin E. (now called Irving) Narter enlisted in the Air Corps on November 12, 1941 when he was twenty-one years old.  He enlisted as a Private at Camp Grant outside Rockford, Illinois.  He was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 157 lbs.  

His older brother Sidney had already enlisted - on April 10, 1941, although Sidney enlisted in the Army, as opposed to Irving who had enlisted in the Air Force.  When Bernard Narter's time came, he joined up as well - joining the Ninth Army.

By April of 1943 now Sgt. Irving Narter (known as "Lucky Eddie") was flying bombing missions over Bremen, Germany as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress.  Wikipedia describes a ball turret gunner in this way:  "A ball turret was a plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upsidedown in his little sphere." 

Here is a photo of Irving with his bomber crew in front of their bomber "The Bad Egg":

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported in May of 1943 that Sgt. Irving Narter participated in a mission bombing industrial targets in Antwerp, Belgium, the second daylight attack on Nazi held Europe.  The Tribune reported that the mission was "perfect" and happily that "not one bomber was lost."

England - June 9, 1943

On September 21, 1943 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that (now) Tech. Sgt. Irving E. Narter had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for "Extraordinary Achievement while serving as a ball turret gunner":

The last flight for Irving Narter took place on November 3, 1943.  Here are the particulars:  The plane was a B-17F, Serial number 42-30805, named BOOGIE'S REVENGE.  It was part of the 91BG, 401BS.  The plane crashed at Gesellschaftshaus, west of Wilhelmshafen, Germany.

Seven members of the crew, including Irving Narter were killed when the plane crashed.  They are:  Pilot: Bob Pitts, Navigator: Jim McAvoy, Nose Gunner: Irving Narter, Tail Gunner: John Clifton, Ball Turret Gunner: Antone Pacheco, Waist Gunner: Edwin Mason, Tail Gunner: John Montgomery.

Three members of the crew survived the crash and were taken prisoner by the Germans:  Co-Pilot: Arnold Williams, Radio Operator: Larry Yenchik, Waist Gunner: Clarry Edwards.

The luck had run out for Irving "Lucky Eddie" Narter.

A current member of the military sent me the Missing Aircrew Report for the incident where Irving and five of his crew members gave their lives for our Country.  The report has recently been declassified.  Here it is in its entirety:

Prior to World War I, little effort was made to return the bodies of fallen soldiers to their homes for burial.  Preservation and transportation of the remains was not feasible, so soldiers were buried where they fell. Starting after the end of World War I, it was possible to have the remains transported back home at US Government expense, and this policy was continued after World War II.  No bodies were returned, however, until the war was over.  Irving Narter's body was probably buried in a German cemetery until the war was over, at which time his remains were shipped back to Chicago.  It was not until the fall of 1947 that the first bodies of those who died in World War II were disinterred and shipped back to the U.S.  The best I can figure out is that Irving Narter's remains were returned to Chicago toward the end of 1949. There is a notation in the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 17, 1950 about Irving Narter:

When she first heard the news of the death of her beloved son, Irving's mother was horrified to think that he had died on German soil.  By 1943 whispers were starting to come out of Germany about the atrocities being done to Jews.  After the war, one of the survivors of the crash that killed Irving told Mrs. Narter that her son had died in the plane before it crashed, and not on German soil.  Small solace for a grieving mother.

Here is the photo the family chose to use for Irving's tombstone:

In the photo he is wearing the medals he has earned (from left) The Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal (with three oak leaf clusters) and The Purple Heart.

So that is the story of Irving Narter - a Chicago native who enlisted in the Air Corps and gave his life for a cause greater than himself.  The thing is, as great as Irving Narter's sacrifice was, it was no different than the sacrifice made by countless men and women who refused to stand by and let tyranny win.  That is not meant to lessen the sacrifice of Narter, rather it is to recognize the sacrifice of all our brave service men and women.  He is one hero among thousands, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, because on that day we decorate the graves of those who have made the supreme sacrifice.  This Memorial Day, decorate the final resting place of a patriot - like Irving Narter.

May Irving Edward Narter, Patriot and American Hero, rest in peace.

As I mentioned earlier, Irving's older brother Sidney had enlisted in the Army on April 10, 1941.  Sidney  served with distinction and earned both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.  He died in 2002 at the age of eighty-three.  He is buried at the Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

Bernard Narter was with the Ninth Army in Europe and was a hero at the Battle of the Bulge - although he would say that he wasn't a hero - but that generation never talked about their heroics.  Bernie is still alive at this writing and living in the west.

America is a better place today because of the Narter Brothers.  I saw a sign recently that fits the Narter Brothers perfectly:

All Gave Some,
Some Gave All.
The Narter family - heroes all.

I want to take a minute to thank the Narter family for all of their help and support with this article.  Thank you to:

Neil Narter – Sam Narter’s son
Alan Narter – Bernie Narter’s son
Bari Narter - Bernie Narter's daughter
David Narter – Alan Narter’s son
Lisa Narter – Neil Narter’s daughter
Cynthia Narter Eszak - Sidney Narter's daughter
Michael Freitag - son of Rhonda Narter-->daughter of Bernard Narter

I did not know any of the Narters when I originally wrote this article. From the moment it was published, the family was extremely supportive.  They helped me straighten out a few facts and graciously shared some of their photos of Irving and the newspaper clippings about his death.  Irving Narter must have been a wonderful guy, because he sure has a great family.


  1. I just ran across this today. You did such a great job researching my Grandfather's brother, and you found things I (and probably most of my family) knew so little about. Thank you so much for your brilliant and valuable work. Dave Narter

  2. I agree with David. Thank you.

  3. Being a ball turret gunner took an extraordinary amount of courage -- they were very vulnerable, both to being shot at, and if the plane made an emergency landing.

    Very nice to read this post about this young man. Thank you.

  4. I was left some of the original newspaper articles and memorabilia. You have done an exceptional job. Thank you, as I will pass this article on.

  5. Jim,
    I am Bernard's youngest daughter, Bari. My brother missed my father's birth year, he was born in 1922 not 1923. He was actually born November 11, 1922, Veteran's Day. How appropriate is that. Thank you very much for your research on the family.