LULA — Getting ready to embark on a top-secret mission, then-Lt. Denver V. Truelove asked his family to visit him at Eglin Field in Florida.
“It would be the last time we would be able to see him probably in a long time,” recalled his sister and last-surviving sibling, Blanche Truelove Bowen, 93, of Cornelia.
“It was a good thing to see him, but it was sad. He had volunteered to do something that he did not know what it was, but the president wanted it done and he was qualified.”
His family would later learn that Truelove, as part of the “Doolittle Raiders,” had taken part in the first U.S. air raid on Japan and the nation’s first retaliatory strike after Pearl Harbor. He survived the dangerous mission only to die a year later, his plane shot down over the Mediterranean Sea.
About 90 people gathered in Claude Kelly Park Tuesday afternoon to remember the Lula native, dedicating a granite memorial to the man whom his sister laughingly described as a “perfectionist.”
“He was an immaculate dresser, good-looking and in everything that he did, he wanted it to come out right,” she said of her younger brother.
City officials and veterans remembered Truelove and his valiant contributions in World War II.
The ceremony took place as busy midday traffic hurried past Athens at Main streets, where the monument etched on both sides recalling Truelove’s military service and decorations sits.
“Be assured that he does hold and will continue to hold a special place in our hearts,” said Ray Shubert of American Legion Post 7, addressing the crowd.
Truelove “was truly a member of this country’s greatest generation,” he added. “We all mourn his loss, even now.”
A Lula couple, Earl and Betty Jo Evans, pursued the memorial for six years. Betty Evans described herself as a “self-proclaimed historian for Denver Truelove.”
“He came home (after the mission), and they had a big parade here. They did honor him here,” she said.
Mayor Milton Turner said the Evanses persisted in getting the memorial for Truelove.
“The historical society got started, and they were part of it. They said, ‘You all pay for it, and we’ll take a lead in it,’ ” Turner said.
The monument cost the city about $700, he said.
Tuesday’s ceremony featured several speakers, including Lula Councilwoman Vicky Chambers and Larry Emmitt, commander of American Legion Post 7, and a colors presentation by the East Hall High School Junior ROTC.
“It was so nice to have him remembered this way,” Bowen said after the ceremony.
She recalled the parade for her brother, who received many medals, including the Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
“He sold more war bonds in Atlanta than a movie star did,” Bowen said. “He was a hero for a day.”
Truelove, later promoted to captain, was stationed afterward in England, where he flew missions over Germany, and then in North Africa.
“He was bombing ... to get troops to land there,” Bowen said. “One stormy day, flak hit the plane and it went down off the coast of Sicily, and he wasn’t recovered.”
He died on April 5, 1943, five days before his 24th birthday.
Bowen remembered an earlier letter from Truelove describing how he had seen flyers not returning from missions and that he may be one of those some day.
“But he was happy to do what he did,” she said. “He loved every minute of the (Army) Air Force.”