The day Roger Maraist was born, his father, an Air Force pilot, was shot down during a combat mission over Tunisia. It was March 1943 — the height of World War II.
Maraist grew up wondering about his biological father, but his mother remarried and rarely talked about him. He himself married, raised a family and spent 32 years working at Southern California Edison (SCE) as regional manager for the San Joaquin Valley.
When his grandmother passed away a few years ago, her possessions were left to Maraist, her only living relative. Among her belongings was an unexpected box of handwritten letters that would start him on a journey of getting to know his dad, Lt. Roger William Jamison.
Maraist never knew the letters existed and reading them was his first chance at understanding the man and the father he never met.
“Prior to undertaking this project, I knew little of my father,” said Maraist, who lives in Visalia, and has published a book about his dad’s letters. “As I read the letters, did research and got firsthand accounts from men who flew with him, I now feel I know and would’ve loved to grow up with him.”
Before his discovery of the letters, Maraist only knew his dad had enlisted in flight school in Ontario, Calif., when he was 20. He married a year later, shortly before being deployed to fight in the North African Campaign of World War II. During his training and deployment, his dad wrote several letters to his wife and mother — more than 140 total.
In Jamison’s last letter to his family, dated March 26, 1943, he writes: “I’m glad that my letters to you are coming through in such fine shape. I know that you really like to hear from me, and you must worry with all of this activity going on over here.”
Only a year into his deployment, Maraist’s father’s B-25 bomber was shot down. Maraist grew up believing the entire crew was killed. Through his research, he learned three parachutes were seen falling from the plane as it was shot down. Two of the crewmen were caught by enemy forces and kept as prisoners of war.
To this day, the identity of the third crew member is unknown. Maraist’s research has led him to believe it could have been his dad.
Today, there is a memorial in Tunisia for the missing crew members of his dad’s final mission. Maraist never had a chance to see it, but thanks to a friend, he has photos of the cemetery and inscription of his dad’s name on the Wall of the Missing memorial.
“I felt a great sense of solace from the beauty of the surroundings shown in the pictures and the dedication to the memory of the servicemen lost in that battle,” said Maraist.
His father’s legacy is now being passed down to his kids and grandchildren.
“My journey is nowhere near complete; I’m learning,” he added. “I wholeheartedly believe that my dad’s last mission wasn’t his crash. His final mission is to bring closure to me.”
For more information on Maraist’s book, “Letters Home From A Fallen Hero: A Son's Quest For His Father”: amzn.to/1Epmg9H.