Olivia Newton-John passed away today (Aug. 8) at the age of 73.
So, what’s that got to do with Rockingham?
Olivia Newton-John’s father-in-law, Tom Easterling, was a Rockingham citizen and soldier, and a very highly decorated World War II hero.
Lt. Easterling qualified as a pilot in 1943 at the age of 19. Over the next couple of years, he flew 68 successful missions in his P-47 Thunderbolt.
He was shot down Dec. 17, 1944, on his 69th mission.
Lt. Easterling should not have survived. He suffered two broken legs, a severe head injury, and German gunfire. Before he made it home, he would spend four months as a German prisoner of war, where he was starved and provided with no medical attention.
In Rockingham, his family waited those same four months to find out if he had survived his December plane crash. After being freed by French forces in April, 1945, Lt. Easterling spent time in England in a full-body cast.
Lt. Easterling earned two Purple Hearts, the European Service Medal, the President Unit Citation, a POW Medal, and the French Legion Medal of Honor.
He also regained his health and lived to be 97. That was more than long enough to see one of his sons, John Easterling, marry Olivia Newton-John.
Newton-John was proud of her soldier father-in-law from Richmond County. She arranged to have Lt. Easterling’s memoirs published under the title “Furrow In The Clouds: The Story of a Young Thomas Easterling, Farmboy, Fighter Pilot, Prisoner of War.” It’s available for Kindle on Amazon.
And, Lt. Easterling never forgot his Richmond County roots. He attended family reunions in Rockingham as long as he was able.
Rest In Peace, Lt. Tom Easterling and Olivia Newton-John.
John Hutchinson is a local historian and currently the elected mayor of Rockingham. This post originally appeared on his mayoral Facebook page. Republished with permission.