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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Revisiting Henderson's Past: Pete Theis

It's time for another peek into the archives ...

Here’s to You, Lieutenant Theis

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings. . .”

from “High Flight,” a popular wartime poem by John G. Magee

The January 1, 1944, edition of the Henderson Morning Gleaner described Francis William “Pete” Theis as a “friendly and brilliant” young man. He was an entertainer with a host of friends, and, like many Henderson boys, when the Second World War erupted, he was anxious to defend his country. Pete was ambitious, and, after attending college for two years, he returned to Henderson to work at a service station. This made it possible for him to commute to the Evansville airport to take flight lessons in an attempt to increase his prospects of getting into the Air Corps.

Pete Theis had grown up in the South Green Street home of his parents, William J. and Sarah Theis. On March 1st, 1942, he was accepted into the service, and, in January 1943, he married a Dixon girl by the name of Martha Blackwell. He was transferred almost immediately to Santa Ana, California for preflight instruction. Of his physical training there, Theis wrote, “A cadet . . . is just a little worse off than a man in hell with his back broke,” but on May 20th, 1943 at Douglas Army Air Field in Arizona, he earned his long-awaited wings.

By September, Theis had returned with his bride to Douglas as a flight instructor. Just as Pete and Martha were preparing a life together in Arizona, though, tragedy struck. December 28th, 1943, three twin-engine airplanes, each containing a cadet and an instructor, went out on test flights in the nearby mountain ranges and did not return. That evening, a fourth plane disappeared. More than thirty search crews were sent out, and, 72 hours later, one of them found the body of 26-year-old Pete Theis. When his young wife returned to Henderson, she was escorting his body to St. Louis Cemetery. They would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary in a day or two.

Photo is of Pete Theis before the war.

To learn more about Pete Theis and his wartime career, feel free to visit us in the archives at the library. You can also view our genealogy page, or read previous “Revisiting Henderson’s Past” entries.

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