A year of fighting Nazis in Europe earned John Hutchison a chestful of decorations: the ETO ribbon, the good conduct medal, a purple heart and cluster (he was injured twice), four battle stars and the Luxembourg citation. He came home to Oil City, Pennsylvania, a genuine American hero at the age of twenty-one, and proudly wore his uniform when he married his girl, Thelma, exactly six months and one day after Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head.
The army gave John an administrative job in Fort Indiantown Gap, a demobilisation camp in eastern Pennsylvania, where he and Thelma lived in married quarters. Before long, he left the army and moved back to Oil City, hoping to make his way in civilian life. That proved more difficult than he had hoped. He had been married less than two years when he got together with his older brother, Willard, and his sister-in-law, Audrey, and started to forge checks, using them to buy all the things he could not afford—fine clothes, shoes and jewellery for Thelma.
In March, 1948, John, Willard and Audrey were arrested for passing bad checks in towns across north-west Pennsylvania. In the past year, they had swindled more than $4,000 from shops in towns near Oil City. In New Castle, they hit two jewelry stores—King’s and Perelman’s—the Betty Gay clothes store, McGoun’s shoe store and Alexander Radio.
Judge Braham usually handed down sentences of one to four years in jail for multiple counts of forgery. John, Willard and Audrey fared rather better. Throughout his life, even into his old age, Judge Braham would speak with sorrow of his younger brother, Hall, telling people that he was the first American to die in world war one and allowing them to infer that he had met his death fighting Germans in the trenches. However, the truth was that Hall had died of pneumonia in an army training camp in Virginia in 1918, not long after he enlisted in the army. He was not the first American to die in the war, either; merely the first from Lawrence County. When he died, Hall had been the age that John was when he appeared in court in New Castle. Judge Braham had been Willard’s age. The parallels might explain why, instead of beng sent to jail, the Hutchisons were let off with a $100 fine, on the condition that they made efforts to pay back what they had stolen.
John and Thelma had three sons. John worked at the Worthington corporation in Oil City until the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he ran a motel. When he retired, he moved back to Oil City. He died in 1992, at the age of sixty-seven.Sources: The Blizzard, (Oil City, Pa) 1 Oct 1945, “Matrimonial” column; Indiana Evening Gazette, 16 March 1948, “Hold Three In Bad Check Ring”; New Castle News (19 April 1948, “Alleged Forgers To Be Returned”; 21 April 1948, “Fine 3 Forgers, No Jail Sentence”; 10 Jan 1963, “Distinguished, Learned, Eloquent Is The Judge”; 10 Jan 1918, “Hall Braham Gives His Life For America”).