14 Names to Remember Project

14 Names to Remember | Raymond Edwards

Posted on May 23rd, 2024 By:

14 Names to Remember Project. Layout by Tonya Strickland. Historic graphics attributed.

Gig Harbor Now columnist Tonya Strickland researched and profiled the 14 local men whose names appear on the World War II monument at Kenneth Leo Marvin Memorial Park. Find all 14 profiles here.

Hometown: Gig Harbor

Branch: U.S. Army Air Forces

Rank: Second Lieutenant, Navigator

Died: Dec. 20, 1944 | Age 21

Second Lt. Raymond “Ray” John Edwards was born April 15, 1923 in Olalla to Leone Valentine (Major) Edwards and David “D.C.” Cleveland Edwards of Gig Harbor. In the 1940s U.S. Census, he had five siblings: Donald, Roy, Ramona, Igal and Joyce Edwards.

Before he charted the course for B-24 heavy bombers overseas, Ray Edwards was a 1941 graduate of Gig Harbor Union High School where he served as senior class president, made the honor roll and was on the school yearbook staff alongside his future wife, Fern J. Underwood. In 1941, the local Lions Club awarded him and classmate John Swensen bronze plaques for being exemplary citizens. Swensen, a high school Boys Club officer with Edwards, is also named on Gig Harbor’s fallen veterans memorial.

When Edwards registered from Tacoma on June 30, 1942, he was 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds with brown hair, hazel eyes and a light complexion. Seven months later, he was training with the U.S. Army Air Forces at Ryan Airfield in Tucson, Arizona. Underwood and Edwards married at a church just outside the base in 1943, where an attendant sang “Oh Promise Me” and “I Love You Truly.”

By August 1944, he’d earned his pilot wings at Hondo Army Airfield in Texas and was assigned as a navigator before shipping out

Collage by Tonya Strickland. Historic documents via the National Archives.

overseas to fly heavy bombers over Italy. That same year, just five days before Christmas, Edwards was on a 10-man crew aboard a B-24 bomber piloted by Lt. Joseph Doyle Jr. As they approached their target in Linz, Austria, the aircraft’s propellers malfunctioned and the engine lost power.

The airmen made quick fixes midair to stay airborne. After completing the drop, they decided to land at a location closer than their base in case the aircraft faltered again. Unfortunately, their previous fixes held up just long enough for the crew to second guess their precautionary landing and attempt the full return trip to their base instead. When the engines failed once again, and the aircraft rapidly lost altitude over the open ocean. As they fell, Doyle caught a glimpse of land and told everyone to parachute out, hoping they’d land on the Italian coastline. That bit of geography, known as “The Spur,” was the heel of Italy’s boot-shaped countryside.

Five airmen in the rear didn’t make it out. The other five jumped, parachuting out and landed in the ocean. Only Doyle and another crew member survived after an Italian fishing boat plucked them from the water. A third airman’s body was also in the boat.

Second Lt. Edwards’ body was never recovered.

According to a Jan. 12, 1945 edition of the Peninsula Gateway newspaper, the deadly mission was only Edwards’ second air mission after being deployed. His first was the day before. (Airmen with the U.S. Army Air Forces typically completed 25 air missions per tour/assignment during WWII).

He’s memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery & Memorial site in Italy.

Locally, he also has a headstone at Fraola Cemetery in Olalla.

In 1945, Underwood, Edwards’ widow, went on to marry Gig Harbor resident and veteran Kenneth Leo Marvin. The park where Gig Harbor’s WWII monument stands today is named after him. Marvin and Underwood are buried at Haven of Rest Cemetery in Gig Harbor.

Status: MIA – Missing in Action