IN the early 1950s, America was returning from a wartime foundation to a peace-time
economy and the prosperity that marked the years preceding the Second
World War. Factories that had been geared to produce aircraft and ammunition
retooled to manufacture automobiles and appliances. And a jump in post-war
births resulted in what would be called “the baby boom.”
Mornings in those days would often find Harry Bethea on North Lumina unlock-ing
the door of his laundry business tucked into the storefronts alongside the Crest Theater, a
Wrightsville Beach landmark.
Harry served in World War II as a B-17 pilot, flying with the infamous “Bloody 100th” Bomb Group
stationed in southeastern England and then for a year after the war ended at Clark Field in the Philippines.
When he returned home, he did as so many other veterans did — he took off his uniform and went back to
work. And, like them, he didn’t talk about the war but kept his memories to himself.
Above: Lt. Harry Bethea with his B-17 crew, circa 1943. Standing, left to right: William Hellen, Edward Skapin, Robert Vance, Carl Dobbins,
Donald Harris and Garnet Symington. Kneeling, left to right: Harry Bethea, Leonard Coleman, Robert Barry and George Reid.
Inset: Bethea was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal for his actions during WWII.
22 june 2022
The long search for a
World War II veteran
COURTESY OF HARRY BETHEA, JR.
BY RONA S IMMONS