Written By staff writer Tiffany Johnson
In a world where heroes often remain nameless, there are some stories that deserve to be heard, celebrated, and cherished. The remarkable journey of Judy Ikels, the daughter of 2nd Lt. William H. Wallace Jr., is one such tale. Through her book, “Death in Wartime China: A Daughter’s Discovery,” Judy takes us on a heartfelt exploration of her father’s sacrifice during World War II and her unwavering determination to preserve his memory.
The story begins on that fateful day of June 10, 1944, when a B-24 Liberator bomber, piloted by 2nd Lt. William H. Wallace Jr., finds itself in a perilous situation after a raid on Japanese forces. In a selfless act of heroism, Lt. Wallace sacrifices his own life to save his crew members. Little did he know that he left behind a legacy that would be uncovered more than seven decades later by his daughter, Judy.
Judy’s journey of discovery commenced with an unexpected email from Dr. Patrick Lucas, an American researcher working on a memorial project in China. Driven by a desire to honor the soldiers who served in China during World War II, Dr. Lucas sought to complete the story of 2nd Lt. William H. Wallace Jr. and stumbled upon Judy. Their encounter opened a door to a world Judy had longed to explore—the story of her father, whom she had never met.
“I am telling his story, which I documented in ‘Death in Wartime China: A Daughter’s Discovery,'” says Judy. “I have become his ‘denshosha’ or memory keeper, and I want people to know my dad, Bill Wallace, and his sacrifice.”
In an exclusive interview, Judy shared her experiences and insights regarding her writing journey and her father’s extraordinary story.
Interviewer: How long have you been a writer, and what initially encouraged you to do so?
Judy: I have always loved to write. I majored in English (and Spanish) at the University of Texas, where I got my BA. Through different career moves, such as teaching, adult training, and serving as an advocate for families and employees at the Department of State, there were always opportunities to write, primarily for documentation or persuasion.
Interviewer: What was so special about Bill that drew you to being a memory keeper?
Judy: I believe most people are intensely interested in their parents, especially one that was lost. As a young person, I had neither the tools nor understanding of how to think about my birth father, a person who was both a presence and an absence in my life. Finally, interest, time, and good luck collided to open doors. Dr. Patrick Lucas, an American researcher living in China, knew of my father’s heroism, and after intense searching for a family member, finally found me, Bill’s daughter.
Interviewer: What did you do while researching and preparing to write this story to ensure it accurately depicted the message and the times?
Judy: First, I organized every family memento, letter, photograph, and document related to Bill, which my mother had saved for me. It is a small miracle the artifacts survived six overseas moves, which our family made with my husband, Larry Ikels, a Foreign Service Officer with the US Information Agency.
With the help of a friend, I gathered a library of relevant history books. Second-hand bookstores proved a treasure trove in this effort. All references are noted in the bibliography of the book, which is thoroughly footnoted. It was important to me to be factual. The publisher categorized my book as history, biography, and autobiography.
To bring the story alive, I sought as much personal contact with the material as possible. For example, I was very interested in the B-24 Low Altitude Bomber my father flew and was fortunate to climb aboard the last airworthy B-24 in the US during its visit to a nearby airfield in 2016. It was thrilling to stand in a plane just like the one he flew and soak in the atmosphere. This kind of experience can really make the difference for a writer.
Of course, a key part of the story was my 2016 trip to China to find the very place on earth where my father parachuted and died and to meet Chinese villagers who memorialized his life and service with a monument.
Interviewer: What are a few things you learned while writing the story?
Judy: Any recounting of World War II history is saturated with incredible statistics that seem incomprehensible. I learned, for example, that over 15,000 airmen died in training incidents before ever leaving the United States for war. That is just one of dozens of eye-popping facts.
Partly because of the magnitude, because it is so hard to comprehend the totality and cost of war, I wanted to record my father’s story for history. Readers can understand something about the war through the eyes of one pilot and his family left behind.
Interviewer: If a person could only remember or learn one thing about this story, what would you want it to be?
Judy: During World War II, the United States and China were allies. Our troops fought and died together. In my experience, ordinary Chinese people, particularly “South of the Clouds” in Yunnan Province, have not forgotten those who flew out of India, over Burma, and soared over the Himalaya Mountains to defend and save them. There is a strong reservoir of good feelings for Americans, especially for a daughter who came looking for memories of her lost father.
Judy’s heartwarming story and her dedication to preserving her father’s memory have captured the attention of media outlets such as The Washington Post and The Fairfax Times, among others. Her book, “Death in Wartime China,” published by Wheatmark, is a poignant and captivating account that intertwines the odyssey of 2nd Lt. William H. Wallace Jr. with Judy’s personal journey of reconnection.
This Father’s Day, let us honor and remember the brave souls who fought for freedom and made the ultimate sacrifice. Judy’s book, “Death in Wartime China: A Daughter’s Discovery,” is a testament to the power of love, the resilience of the human spirit, and the enduring bonds between fathers and daughters. If you wish to embark on this remarkable journey and learn more about Judy’s father’s extraordinary story, “Death in Wartime China: A Daughter’s Discovery” is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other book sellers. For additional information, visit Judy’s website at deathinwartimechina.com.
In a world where heroes may be forgotten, let us celebrate the unwavering love of a daughter who became her father’s memory keeper and ensured that his story, and the stories of those who fought alongside him, live on for generations to come.