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WASHINGTON D.C. — Sen. Orrin Hatch and his family attended a special ceremony at the Pentagon March 20 in honor of Hatch’s late brother, Jesse Morlan Hatch, a fallen soldier of World War II.
Army Cpl. Jesse Hatch was just 20 years old when his B-24 went down over Austria while he was serving as a nose turret gunner on Feb. 7, 1945, according to a news release.
The soldier was first reported missing in action, and it was two years before the family learned he had died.
Sen. Hatch was only 8 years old at the time of his brother’s death, and within weeks, a streak in his hair turned white.
Air Force Secretary Deborah James gave shadow boxes honoring Jesse to Sen. Hatch and his sisters, Frances and Jessica, at the ceremony.
One of the shadow boxes contained a picture of Cpl. Jesse Hatch along with the other fallen soldiers from the 15th Air Force, 451st Bombardment Group, based out of Castellucio Airfield, Italy, at the time.
“Men of this unit were ordinary men. They were ordinary airmen, but they rose to extraordinary heights 70 years ago," James said, according to the news release.
The crew released more than 300,000 tons of bombs on their enemy targets in nine European countries. They also flew 149,000 heavy bomber sorties and nearly 88,000 fighter sorties, and sent more than 5,600 downed airmen who were shot down in enemy territory back to their own countries, James said.
The men were on their 186th mission, a mission to destroy the Korneuburg Oil Refinery in Austria, when they were killed.
Sixty-three men died when enemy fire hit the crew’s “wingman in the bomb bay, igniting its munitions and causing it to collide with their bomber.”
Jesse Hatch’s parents never got over his death, Sen. Hatch said at the ceremony, according to the news release.
“I'm very emotional right now, and I don't want to break down and cry in front of all of you, although I'm just about there," Sen. Hatch said at the ceremony.
Sen. Hatch would have been drafted to the Korean War, but instead served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since he was the only heir of the family name. Hatch gives his brother credit for his own life in public service.
"All I can say is my brother died, and I was able to go on the mission. And I worked harder than anybody on that mission, everyday of that mission, to fulfill two missions. One for my brother and one for me," Hatch said at the ceremony. "And that was the basis of my being able to go to law school, all the way up to becoming a U.S. senator, now president pro tempore of the Senate.”
I can't begin to tell you how indebted we are toward you folks in the military, who have sacrificed so much, and will sacrifice so much for our country.
–Sen. Orrin Hatch
Hatch has a lot of respect for the military and the sacrifice troops and family members go through. One of Hatch’s brothers-in-law was a top sergeant in the Marine Corps and served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and another was killed in Vietnam.
"I can't begin to tell you how indebted we are toward you folks in the military, who have sacrificed so much, and will sacrifice so much for our country," Hatch said at the ceremony.
“There’ll never be anything that the military needs where I'm not going to be there. Plus, I have to be there to keep [Sen. John McCain] straight and level," Hatch said with a chuckle, according to the news release. "We love John McCain and others who have served as well."
Jesse Hatch was honored in front of about a hundred people and dozens of family members in the Air Force’s art gallery at the Pentagon.
Hatch and his sisters were also given a folded American flag in addition to the shadow boxes.
“No words and no commemorative items, no matter how beautiful and special they may be, can ever soothe the pain of losing a brother,” James said at the ceremony. “But we also know that his sacrifice was absolutely not in vain.”
Stephanie Leishman, Hatch’s granddaughter who traveled from Boston to attend the ceremony, said, "The ceremony was beautiful. … It clearly meant a lot to my grandfather."
Hatch said the ceremony meant everything to him, according to the press release.
“He was a really wonderful young man, everybody loved him,” Hatch said of his brother. “I still remember him. I actually felt maybe his spirit was here with us."