75 years later, family searches for fiancée of war hero
SEATTLE -- The family of a World War II hero is searching for his fiancée with nothing more than a 75-year-old photograph of the two lovers in the Seattle area.
Born in 1922, Joe E. Mann grew up in Rearden, Washington. In May 1941, after graduating high school, Mann moved to the Seattle area to work in a plywood factory. He enlisted in the Army in July 1942.
His family believes at some point during those 14 months he met a woman and got engaged. Mann sent a single photo of the couple to his mother with news of the engagement, but his family never met the woman nor did relatives learn her name.
Mann died in battle on Sept. 19, 1944. He was a paratrooper with the 502nd Infantry. Days before his death, he dropped into Best, Netherlands, where he was shot twice in each arm while defending infrastructure from German troops.
Despite his injury, Mann wanted to stand guard for his comrades, who were still facing enemy fire. On the day of his death, German troops flanked their foxhole and threw in five grenades. The Americans ejected the first four, but the fifth fell at Mann’s feet.
“Because his arms were bandaged at his side, he yelled, ‘I’ll take this one’ and he laid his body on top of it, and was killed,” Mann’s nephew, Byrne Bennett said. “And the six men whose lives he saved said it was the bravest thing they’d ever seen.”
Those men recommended Mann for the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his father the next year. Mann was also awarded four Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
Meanwhile the fiancée’s identity remained a mystery. The lone photo sat in an album for about 70 years, until Bennett decided to write a book about his uncle. About a year ago, he began sifting through military records and old photographs.
To this day, Bennett says, he has found no record of Mann’s fiancée. Last year, he took out an ad in The Seattle Times, but received no responses.
“It would just be interesting to know what her family or what she knows about Joe,” Bennett said. “I’d like to ask her how she met Joe. I’d like to ask what he was like, what attracted her to him. What kind of person he was, what his personality was like. And I specifically what she turned out to be like, where did her life take her.”
Bennett believes the photo was either taken at Fort Lewis or Fort Lawton.
Bennett doesn’t know if Mann’s fiancée ever received word of his death given that she wasn’t listed in any official military records. He hopes finding her family would bring them some closure.
He believes it would close the book on this incredible story. An American hero who left a profound legacy, and one great mystery.