World War II nurse Jane McElrath knew firsthand the horrors of war when her sweetheart fell captive behind enemy lines. After an agonizing 16 months to await the fate of the prisoner of war, Jane and Eldred "Pete" McElrath were married and started a family together.
Her death on Dec. 17 in Hughson came less than four years after the death of her husband. Funeral services were held on Dec. 28 at Harvest Presbyterian Church, with full military honors at Ceres Memorial Park.
Jane E. Stowe McElrath was born June 26, 1922 in Waterville, Minn., to Harry and Maude Stowe, the third of six children. After graduating from Waterville High School, Jane worked as a waitress for a year to earn enough money to attend and graduate from St. Lucas Evangelical Deaconess Hospital nursing school in Faribault, Minn., in 1944. She promptly enlisted in the Army Women's Nursing Corps, trained at Camp Carson, Colo., and was then assigned to O'Reilly General (Army) Hospital in Springfield, Mo.
While still in high school, new neighbors moved in next door to the Stowes - the McElraths - and Jane had her eye on Eldred "Pete" McElrath. A romance began to bud when when Eldred enlisted in the Army at the beginning of the war. Eldred became a pilot in the Army Air Corps and his B-24 bomber was shot down Jan. 2, 1944 as it was dropping bombs on submarine pens in Germany. Mac survived the crash but Germans on the ground wasted no time in finding the Americans and taking them prisoner. Mac had an uncertain future as he endured 16 months of being captive in Stalag #1 near the Balctic Sea. Jane and his family back home in the United States were on pins and needles, anxious to hear about his condition beyond the official "Missing in Action" pronouncement by the military. They would not learn of his fate until four months later when a radio transmission was monitored from the East Coast.
His German captors allowed him and others to occasionally speak their name and parents and hometown into a transmitter so that short-wave radio operators could hear who was captive and relay the information to their folks back home. Several ham operators on the East Coast notified McElrath's parents by postcard, faster than the American Red Cross was able to do.
When Russians moved in on the Germans, the camp where Mac was held was deserted and the Americans were free - but on their own to find the path to their superiors and freedom. He arrived in New York City on July 4, 1945 and immediately traveled back to Waterville, collected his youngest brother and mother, and took a train south to Springfield. There he and Jane were married on July 20, 1945 beginning 67 years of marriage.
Both were released from the Army several months later after Japan surrendered.
The McElraths moved to California in 1950 and settled first in Modesto, then in Ceres where they raised three children, Susan (now of Carson City), Timothy (Joyce, now of Manteca), and Wendy (Mitchel, now of Sebastopol). Jane worked as a registered nurse at Scenic Hospital, Memorial Hospital (the original in Ceres), and Dr. Paul Klein in Hughson. Despite the demands of being a working mother, Jane found time to lead the Ceres PTA, and assist with Brownies, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts. In later years she was a member of Soroptimist International of Ceres, the Ceres Persephone Guild, and a Bible study group.
Jane was a 25-year member of the Veterans Foreign War Auxiliary and a life member of the American Ex-Prisoners of War. She was a long-time member of Harvest Presbyterian Church of Ceres. Jane loved camping and fishing, playing cards with friends, golfing, knitting, sewing, reading, working cross word puzzles, and watching baseball games. She especially loved being with her three grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
In their retirement years they spent many summers on the coast of Oregon (where Pete learned to crab and Jane learned to can excess crab and smoked oysters) and camping in Montana and northern Minnesota.
Jane is survived by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; by her sister, Shirley Helland; and by sisters-in-law Janet McElrath, Ruthabeth McElrath, and Linda Stowe. She was preceded in death by her husband Eldred, her parents Harry and Maude Stowe, and siblings Herbert, Margaret "Peg", Gladys, and Richard.
Remembrances may be sent to Community Hospice, 4368 Spyres Way, Modesto CA 95356; or to Harvest Presbyterian Church, 1813 Moffet Road, Ceres CA 95307.