By Lynne Hasselman
Posted Aug. 25, 2015 at 7:28 PM
“Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a series of stories about Ashland residents who lost their lives in military service during World War II. It will continue on Wednesdays through Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
Ashland was like many rural towns in the early 1940s — it was a farm town, a railroad town, a lumber town — the type of place where if a kid got in trouble at one end, by the time they ran home, their parents had already heard about it. Doors were never locked and children played outside at night until the streetlights came on. Ashland High School had just over 300 students and Southern Oregon College of Education (SOCE) had a student body numbering close to 200.
Despite Ashland’s relatively small size, there were always things to do. Picking pears in the orchards or working on the farm, seeing a double matinee at the Varsity, going to the stock car races at the Ashland Fairgrounds, roller skating at the Armory, swimming at the Helman Baths. Mothers dropped their children off at the Lithia Park playground, which had its own attendant and small zoo, while they shopped at the Ashland Groceteria or Fortmiller’s Department Store. The Palace Café or Wimpy’s were always open for lunch — a great milkshake could be had for 10 cents. Medford and its Woolworth’s store were just a short bus ride away.
Ashland was built upon hard work, faith, family and simple pleasures. Then came World War II. Ashland changed forever.
The first devastating news to be delivered, even before the U.S. entered the war, was about Staff Sgt. Robert Farlow, one of the most popular students at Ashland High School — a Grizzly football, basketball, baseball and track team standout, a great golf and tennis player, a letterman both his junior and senior years, in student government, in the senior play, on the yearbook staff and in the Boy Scouts. Bob, as he was known, was one of those rare individuals well-liked by everyone.
The shocking information about his death was delivered on the Oct. 13, 1941, front page: Bob had been killed the previous day as a passenger in a B-23 bomber that crashed into the San Bernardino Mountains during a rainstorm and exploded northwest of the city of Beaumont, Calif. Six other men on board also perished on the routine flight. The Farlow family was notified by telegram at 10:47 p.m., shortly after the United Press International teletype at the Ashland Tidings carried the first accounts of the bomber crash. No one in the newsroom knew yet that Bob was one of the victims.
The 1941 Ashland High yearbook remembered Bob this way in its dedication: “In memory of Staff Sergeant Robert J. Farlow, first graduate of Ashland High to sacrifice the supreme gift of life on the altar of World War II. His friendly smile and genial manner will long be remembered by all who knew him. The loyalty and energy he extended on behalf of school activities will seldom be surpassed. To those who knew the outstanding members of the Class of ’39, Bob will forever represent the men who will give their lives that we remaining shall enjoy the benefits and privileges of democracy.”
The tenor of Ashland and certainly the entire country during World War II was one of patriotism, duty, and sacrifice. Everyone — men, women and children — were expected to do their part, whether overseas or on the home front. And when a life ended in tragedy, the community shared its sorrow.
Ashland mourned for Lt. John R. Pratt, also from the Class of 1939, who was killed along with his crew of seven men on Oct. 15, 1942. Another devastating tragedy early in the war, John was with the 459th Bombardment Squadron, 330th Bomb Group, based in Alamogordo, N.M. He was at the controls on a nighttime training mission when his B-17 collided with Mount Baldy six miles southwest of the tiny town of Magdalena, N.M. In an interview with John’s older brother, Louis C. Pratt, many years later, Louis remembered taking his first flight with John when a barnstormer came through town offering free plane rides. It was on that day, Louis said, that his brother decided to become a pilot.
John visited his family on leave for the last time at the end of summer in 1942 and when they parted, Louis had a premonition that he would never see his brother again. Sadly, he was correct — John died two months later.
In 2008, a memorial service was held in honor of John and his fallen crew members by the citizens of Magdalena. A plaque listed their names, ranks, and hometowns. It read, “These men also gave their lives for our country. We should not forget them or the sacrifice that they made.”
John is buried in the Ashland Cemetery just a row away from his classmate Bob Farlow.”