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A memorial in the Ashland Street Cemetery tells of three brothers who died during World War II. The memorial states that Kent Ashcraft died late in 1944, but was reported missing a year earlier while on a plane flight during a rescue mission in the Pacific, according to articles in the Mail Tribune archives. - Jamie Lusch

A family lost to war

Deep rose hues of the large marble memorial bloom in the spring sun filtering through the tall trees on the south side of the Ashland Street Cemetery.

But there is no escaping the sadness upon reading the inscription: "IN MEMORY OF ASHCRAFT BROTHERS."

The three brothers — Army Staff Sgt. Leland James Ashcraft, 30; Navy Lt. Kent Norman Ashcraft, 29; and Navy Lt. j.g. Dean Bruner Ashcraft, 27 — all died within nine months of each other while serving in World War II.

On one side of the memorial is a cross etched into the stone; the other side depicts a four-engine World War II bomber with twin tails, portraying a B-24 Liberator likely flown by at least one of the Navy officer brothers during the war.

Next to the memorial are the grave markers for their parents, Norman B. Ashcraft, 1884-1971, and Ethel B. Ashcraft, 1887-1972. He was the principal at Talent School from 1933 to 1938.

Time has taken its toll on the brothers' loved ones. Although there are several local families with the same surname, no immediate family members appear to be living in the Rogue Valley.

"I don't remember anyone (relatives) coming to bring flowers or look at the memorial — it has been a long time," said Ashland cemetery sexton Rocky King.

"Of course, there may be some people walking by who probably stop to look at it during Memorial Day or Veterans Day," he added.

A Marine Corps helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam, King noted the 4-by-4-foot marble memorial indicated the three brothers were well-loved.

"A piece that big would cost you probably three grand today," he said, adding his office has no record of when it was placed at the cemetery, although he suspects it was erected by the parents, possibly in the 1960s.

Articles in the Mail Tribune's archives provide a sketchy trail of the brothers' lives and deaths.

One of the first mentions of the brothers in the paper was Nov. 6, 1939, when Kent Ashcraft was named one of 10 students at Southern Oregon College of Education in Ashland (now Southern Oregon University) who enrolled in a pilot training course. The class was sponsored by the newly formed Civil Aeronautics Authority to provide trained pilots for national defense.

Yet it would be the youngest brother who died first. An article published June 8, 1943, in the Mail Tribune reported his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. James Yeo of Ashland, had been notified their nephew, Dean Ashcraft, had been killed during a training flight.

"Lt. Dean Ashcraft was stationed at Pensacola, Fla., where he was a flight instructor, with his brother Kent Ashcraft," the article stated. "Both brothers graduated from junior college at SOCE. Dean was in his senior year at the University of Oregon prior to joining the Naval Air Corps."

At that point, their parents were living in Canyonville, according to the article.

On Jan. 12, 1944, news came of the apparent death of the middle brother.

"Word has been received by local friends of Lt. Kent N. Ashcraft, USNR, reported missing on a plane flight while on active duty in the Pacific war area," it read. It did not say what day he went missing.

"Lt. Ashcraft attended Oregon State College and Southern Oregon College of Education. He took CAA training in Medford and Portland before entering the Naval reserve as an aviation cadet at Pensacola, Fla., on Jan. 3, 1941."

After serving as a flight instructor at Pensacola Naval Air Training Center until Aug. 3, 1943, he left the states for overseas duty on Oct. 31, 1943, it reported.

It also noted he left a wife and daughter who lived with his parents in Camas Valley. There was no name given for his spouse or daughter.

However, a 1940-41 telephone book in the Mail Tribune library indicates Kent Ashcraft lived on Beach Avenue with his wife, Beulah. No child was listed. It listed a Leland Ashcraft on Scenic Drive who worked as an engineer at the Ashland Ice & Storage Co.

As a footnote, the newspaper article also mentioned the older brother.

"A brother, Sgt. Leland Ashcraft, was wounded in Italy on Oct. 12 and is recuperating in a hospital in Sicily," it noted.

An article in the April 12, 1944, edition of the Mail Tribune tells the story of the last son to die.

"News of death in action of Sgt. Leland Ashcraft was received Tuesday by relatives here," it said. "It was believed he was killed in battle at Casino having recovered sufficiently after hospitalization from injuries received in the invasion of Italy to return to the front."

The story noted he had received the Purple Heart medal during the initial invasion at Anzio.

"Leland Ashcraft is the third and last son of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Ashcraft, now living in Camas Valley, formerly of Talent and Ashland, to have given their lives for their country," it read. "It will be remembered that Lt. Dean Ashcraft was killed in a plane accident in Florida and accorded a military funeral here. The second, Lt. Kent Norman Ashcraft, while on a mission of rescue in the Pacific area, was reported lost.

"Now the third and only remaining son dies in combat," it concluded.

After living in Talent, Norman and Ethel Ashcraft apparently moved away from the Rogue Valley in 1938, according to research by Jan Wright, director and historian at the Talent Historical Society.

Citing the 1938 Talent School yearbook called the "Lookout," Wright said Norman Ashcraft was the principal at the two-story brick school for five years. The school included elementary through high school.

A 1913 graduate of the University of Oregon, he taught science and math and coached the baseball team, she said. His favorite saying was, "Let's have it more quiet, please," according to the yearbook.

A stone monument in front of the Talent community hall listing the names of Talent residents who died in World War II includes Dean B. Ashcraft but not the two other brothers, Wright said.

An inscription under the principal's photograph in the yearbook indicates the students' fondness for their chief.

"For his untiring efforts and gracious help in our four years of high schooling in Talent, we wish to dedicate this, the 1938 Lookout, to Mr. Ashcraft, our principal," it reads.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com. Mail Tribune Librarian Pam Sieg contributed to this report.

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