by Martha Anderson, Volunteer
Cataloguing artifacts always interests me. Even the most ordinary object can open a door to an unexpected place. Consider the humble car tag. In the museum’s collection of nearly 200 auto license plates dating from 1913 into the 1990s there’s not much to learn beyond the state’s history of legislative actions regarding vehicle registration.
We have two license plates that give a glimpse of a far greater story. They were issued in the early 1980s to ex-POWs, both Oklahoma veterans who served in World War II. The accession files have only the most basic details about either man: service branch, rank, death date, burial place. One mentions time in a Japanese POW camp, but nothing more. That seems to be typical of so many personal war records from that era—just the facts, no detail. The widows of these veterans donated the plates as historical references but nothing of their stories. Unwilling to leave the files bare, I used the facts at hand to unlock the door of public record.
US Army Enlistment Records show that Claude W. Box of Creek County enlisted in Oklahoma City on March 11, 1941. PFC Box is found on a 59th Coastal Artillery Personnel Roster dated March 31, 1942 compiled by the Corregidor Historic Society. The island fortress of Corregidor was surrendered to Japanese forces on May 6, 1942, one month after the fall of Bataan. Well over 10,000 Allied prisoners were captured and scattered across the Philippines and Asia. WWII Prisoners of War Records list S/Sgt. Box among those liberated from Tokyo POW Camp (Shinjuku) Tokyo Bay Area 35-140 three and half years later. Claude Box processed out of the Army October 1, 1945. His widow stated that he died November 1, 1984 and is buried in Mannford, Creek County, Oklahoma.
The second license plate was issued to Elvis A. McCoy, Miami, Oklahoma. The 381st Bombardment Group War Diary lists Cpl. McCoy with a combat crew assigned to the 532nd Bomb Squadron on September 1, 1944. This crew flew B-17 bombing missions over Germany and France from Ridgewell Air Field, County Essex, England. A 532nd Squadron War Diary entry for December 11, 1944 describes that day’s mission over Mannheim, Germany. It reports that subsequent flak (ground-to-air fire) in the target area downed the plane and lists the names of the crew missing in action. T/Sgt McCoy is listed as one of two POWs; six other crewmen and the pilot were killed. McCoy is named among POWs held at Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany. His last report date with the Army Air Corps was June 1945. His last residence is listed as Miami, Oklahoma and date of death as August 1, 1988.
Box and McCoy not only answered the call, but served above and beyond with sacrifices that can only be guessed at. First person accounts of men and women in similar circumstances paint very grim pictures. It is interesting that these two stories illustrate the two happiest days in WWII history. POW liberation in 1945 coincided with V-E Day on May 8 with Germany’s surrender, and V-J Day on September 2 with Japan’s surrender. That year also saw these men turn 23.
The accession files show that two widows of veterans gave us just a couple of car tags. The details show they gave us so much more.
Violet McCoy Collection, 1988.175