Seventy years ago – on D-Day, the sixth of June – the liberation of Europe began with the largest amphibious military operation there ever was, or ever will be. The next day, an American fighter pilot based in England named Conrad John Netting III celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday. Two days after that, he wrote to his eight-months-pregnant wife Katherine about his squadron, “Of twenty-one [men] who came here together [on April 4], ten are gone.” By nightfall the following day, he was dead.

Flying his P-51 fighter over Normandy on June 10, Conrad attacked a German truck convoy that was racing toward the beaches to supply the defenders. But when he pulled up from his strafing run, he hit the tops of some tall trees on a high hill beyond the road. His wingman saw the plane – which Conrad had named Conjon IV, for the son he was sure he’d soon have – disappear in a ball of flame. In secrecy – and at great risk, because the Germans had threatened the lives of anyone who rendered any aid to the Allies – a French family from a nearby village recovered the body and buried it. A month later, Conrad John Netting IV was born.

And there the story seemed to rest. Katherine became part of a silent generation of war widows who never spoke much of their great love for their husbands, nor of the deep anguish left by their deaths. It wasn’t until almost a half century later, when Katherine died, that Conrad IV found his father’s footlocker. There, among the uniforms and medals, he discovered the luminous wartime letters of his mother and father – together with a journal she kept, and Conrad’s flight log.

Conrad’s and Katherine’s letters were a revelation to their son, and they set him off on a quest to discover the father he never knew, as well as the love story his mother never told him. Incredibly, just at that moment, the family of French villagers who had buried but never forgotten the American airman who died to liberate them was commencing a search for the son.

Conrad Netting IV – a CPA and investment advisor in San Antonio – tells this astonishing and beautiful story in his well-written and superbly-illustrated memoir, Delayed Legacy. It is simply one of the most moving books I’ve ever read, or ever will read.

In much the same way, for me, as Anne Frank gives us some human idea of the otherwise incomprehensible Holocaust, Conrad John Netting III, his widow and his son allow us some idea of what was lost, and what may yet be found, when a generation of Depression-era young men, who had been forced to grow up far too quickly, went to war – so many never to return. 

On this seventieth anniversary of D-Day, I’ll be reading Delayed Legacy again. I think everyone should. Read it for those who fell. Read it for those who were left to mourn. Read it for your American soul.

© 2014 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Nick reviews current books, articles and research findings in the “Resources” feature of his monthly newsletter, Nick Murray Interactive. To download a sample issue, visit, and click on “Newsletter.”