Son donates diary, items from father killed in WWII to Menghini Museum in Norway
NORWAY — First Lt. Joseph Alphonse DeRidder was just 27 years old when he was killed in action in the skies above Munich, Germany, on July 31, 1944, while co-piloting the B-17 “Devil’s Luck.”
A lifelong Norway resident, Joey left behind a young wife, Lucy, and 2-year-old son, Jeffrey, who had no memories of his father and grew up knowing very little about him.
Fast forward 50 years: Jeff received a phone call from a man who said his father had served with Joey DeRidder during World War II. The man’s father had recently died, and while sorting through belongings, he had found something he thought belonged to Jeff.
Several days later, a small parcel arrived, containing an old, worn book with the faded title, “My Stretch in the Service.” It was Joey’s wartime diary, and until that moment, no one in the family knew it existed.
“Seeing my father’s handwriting and reading about his experiences was very emotional, especially the parts where he talked about me,” Jeff said.
He added that his mother, Lucy, was able to see the diary before her death in 1998.
The diary offered a treasure trove of information about Joey’s life in the Army Air Corps, from his enlistment in early 1943 to his last entry, two days before his death.
It also contained names and addresses of some of Joey’s service buddies. In the early 2000s, Jeff’s daughter, Jayna Huotari, tracked down several veterans who passionately shared their memories with the DeRidder family.
Her research further revealed that Joey’s military unit, the 388th Bomb Group, had annual conventions, and she and Jeff attended several of the gatherings.
“We were fortunate to meet so many heroes before they passed,” Jeff said.
It was during a visit to the Jake Menghini Museum in 2017 that Huotari suggested her father donate Joey’s diary and flag.
“I was hesitant to give up my father’s personal effects,” Jeff said, “but my daughter pointed out that everything will be in very good hands and we can come and see it at any time.”
While the original diary is in very fragile condition, a high-resolution copy is available at the museum for public viewing.
Items donated include a glass case with Joey’s service flag and war medals and an enlarged photograph taken the moment “Devil’s Luck” exploded, capturing the death of all its crew, save one who parachuted to safety. Jeff is readying his father’s officer’s jacket to be added to the collection soon.
The Jake Menghini Museum is at 105 O’Dill Drive in Norway and is open Friday through Sunday, June through September.
For more information on donating items, contact Museum Director Cris Hamlin at 906-563-5586 or go online to norwaymuseum.org.