With the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the events that occurred on that date, I thought I would make a special tribute to my Grand Uncle Irwin John Jonas. He participated in D-Day and lost his life on 11 July 1944, just over 70 years ago, near Saint-Lô, France.
Irwin John was born the third child to the marriage of Lillian Coley and Joseph Nelson Jonas. He was born on Friday 2 September 1921 in Thatcher, Franklin, Idaho, at 6:30 PM, although likely born in Cleveland, Franklin, Idaho, while the family made a go of farming. The family could not make farming work and moved to Lewiston, Cache, Utah as his father took a job with the Utah-Idaho Central Railroad. When Irwin was about 6, the family moved to Uintah, Weber, Utah. Joseph was promoted to Section Foreman and the family moved to Ogden, Weber, Utah. It was in this place that Joseph was accidentally electrocuted in 1932. Afterward the family moved back to Richmond, Cache, Utah, Lillian’s hometown.
The family moved around quite a bit and some of the children struggled with the moves and changes in homes. The family lived in everything from a boxcar to a nice home in Ogden. Joseph and Lillian were stern but loving parents, dealing with their own issues as well as with the children.
Irwin John Jonas
Lillian purchased a small home in Richmond with the funds from Joseph’s life insurance. Lillian’s family helped raise the rowdy six boys, including Irwin, and youngest two girls.
Irwin continued through school. He did not graduate high school, but at least made it a few years into North Cache.
Here is a picture of Irwin at North Cache with Glacus Godfrey Merrill’s class. Irwin is on the back row, third from the right, fifth from the left. His brother, Norwood, my grandfather, is on the far right of the third row from the front. You can see the other names for this photo here.
Shortly before his 18 birthday, 6 July 1939, Irwin enlisted with the Army. He departed shortly afterward for training.
Unfortunately, the Army had a massive fire that destroyed most of the military records for World War II in 1973.
Family recollect that he trained in the southwest as this picture also seems to show with the large cactus.
He did make it to the rank of Sergeant in the Army.
Irwin met Mary Elizabeth Popwitz at a dance at Camp McCoy, Sparta, Wisconsin. They were later married 21 June 1943 in Winona, Winona, Minnesota.
Mary Popwitz and Winifred Perley (Mary was Winifred’s Nanny)
Irwin wrote a Christmas Card home in December 1943 with the following photograph.
Irwin was then sent to go overseas. Irwin sent Mary to live with his mother in Richmond. Mary gave birth to Robert Irwin Jonas in February 1944. Irwin went to New York City in preparation for the D-Day Invasion. At least that is the story told by family.
This following envelopes show Irwin was still in New York City in May and July of 1944.
An explanation could be the preparation for D-Day and not wanting to give anything away so they made it appear like it was in New York City. Or it could very well be that he did not take part of D-Day and arrived after that date. However, since he died on the 11th of July in Saint-Lô, it is unlikely he was in New York City on 8 July 1944. Further that letter was dated 6 July 1944. It was likely he was writing from France but marking the envelopes New York City. At any rate, here is the single page of the postmarked 8 July 1944 letter. You will have to click on it to read it properly, the pencil is hard to scan. One of Irwin’s obituaries indicates he was sent to Europe in October 1943.
Lillian received the dreaded personal visit from the Army in August 1944. She received the following letter in September.
The US Army determined to bring Irwin’s body home to the United States rather than bury him in France. Lillian and Mary finally received Irwin’s body in late January 1948. His burial took place 6 February 1944 in Richmond.
Robert Irwin Jonas continued to grow under the love and care of his mother and grandmother.
After Irwin passed away, Mary moved to Preston, Franklin, Idaho near her close friend Colleen Andra who would later marry Irwin’s brother, Norwood.
Through the family, Mary and Bob moved to Ogden to work. There, Mary, Irwin’s widow, met Irwin’s uncle Art Coley. Irwin and Art were born the same year, even though Uncle and Nephew. Arthur “Art” Christiansen Coley and Mary were married 3 May 1946 in Evanston, Uinta, Wyoming.
Art and Mary continued to raise Bob as their own. Two additional sons joined the marriage, Stephen “Steve” G and Ronald Gary.
Steve, Bob, Gary
Steve, Mary, Gary, Bob
Bob, Janet, and Bobby Jonas
As of my writing today, Mary is still alive. She lives in an assisted living home in South Ogden, Utah.
Bob and Janet Jonas, Mary Coley, Steve and Julie Coley in 2004