The family of a Tifton veteran missing in action since 1943 will express their understanding of confidence, faith and hopefulness Oct. 26 when military honors are extended to 1st Lt. Robert Berry Powledge in formal ceremonies at 10 a.m. in Oakridge Cemetery.
The B-17 Flying Fortress pilot lost two of four engines over Heligoland, an archipelago in the North Sea on Germany’s northwest coast, while heading to his home base after completing a raid July 17, 1943.
Reports from other pilots in the formation state the plane dropped back, lost altitude and disappeared in a cloud; the telegram from the commanding general of the European Area announced Powledge missing in action.
“We always loved Robert, and I’ve been wanting to do something after all this time,” says Tunkey Culpepper Bergeron.
“When you honor one, you honor all,” she said. “We have the flag with 48 stars that would have gone on his casket.”
Supporting one another in the belief he might return were his aunt and uncle, Boozer and Ethel Culpepper, who opened their Tifton home on the corner of 12th Street and Love Avenue to 10-year-old Powledge when his parents died.
Powledge’s mother, Nova Cleone Powledge, died when he was five. She was the sister of his Uncle Boozer, a county agent for 37 years in Tift County.
Three sisters in the Culpepper home growing up with Powledge were Margaret Cleone (Tunkey) Culpepper Bergeron who turns 90 two days after the military honors ceremony, and Susie Culpepper Huff and Marion Culpepper Whiddon, both deceased.
“We always considered him a special part of the family, even though he was never there,” said Margaret Whiddon Powers, born after the family learned of his MIA status.
“Among the stories often repeated was my grandfather’s dream or vision of Robert appearing to say not to worry about him any longer.
“I’ve heard that story over and over again all my life,” Powers said.
Co-captain of the football team, Powledge graduated from Tift County High School in 1937 and enrolled in Georgia Tech before joining the National Guard Old Governor’s Horse Guard.
The Culpeppers attended his graduation from pilot training at Ellington Field in Waco, Texas in October 1942 and Powledge assumed command of a four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress bomber plane in March 1943.
In a letter written eight days before his plane was attacked, Powledge told the family he wished to be in Tifton enjoying a good, hot summer day.
The Tifton Gazette published a story July 26, 1943 about his Missing in Action status and another one year later, reporting his posthumous promotion to 1st Lieutenant, including presentation of the Air Medal and Purple Heart.
The Culpepper family added a monument to their family plot in memory of Powledge, and later an official Missing in Action marker from the Veteran’s Administration.
The Georgia State Honor Guard will participate in the Oct. 26 memorial service with the firing of three round volleys, a bugler playing taps and the folding and presentation of the flag.
Co-pilot William Alexander of Big Spring, Texas, who flew with Powledge, was officially declared dead.
Albritton-Beaumont Funeral Directors are assisting the family with the memorial services.