On a the latest heat summer season Sunday, in a remote, sunbathed cemetery in central Virginia, a Mount Ethereal man concluded a excursion 33 many years in the creating.
And in so executing, he was reminded that the celebrations lots of across the country get pleasure from these days, on Independence Day, has occur with a horrible cost for numerous during the nation’s historical past.
Roger Keck’s stop by to the small cemetery at Maple Grove Pentecostal Church just outdoors of Dillwyn, Virginia, was a journey he’d been wanting to make given that 1988. In some respects, it was a journey he’d been on because 1966, the initially and up till now only, time he’d ever frequented the Virginia city.
That first time, in August of 1966, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Military, sent there with a sacred assignment — he was accompanying the human body of Pfc. David Banks Bryant, who at 23 experienced been killed in Vietnam.
“I bought orders to escort his body home,” Keck mentioned lately, recalling that solemn train trip virtually six a long time ago. Keck was stationed at Fort Jackson, in South Carolina, nearing the finish of his five-year stent in the army.
His assignment was in some ways simple — he would accompany the human body residence, see that it was received correctly at a neighborhood funeral home there, then stand watch more than the fallen soldier’s entire body each and every day for five times, until finally the deceased soldier was laid to rest.
Keck claimed it was a unhappy assignment, to be absolutely sure — looking at a relatives, in this case mother and father, a brother and a sister, acquire the physique of their beloved one is a difficult expertise, but the weight of his duty didn’t absolutely sink in at the time.
“At the time, I was younger. It was a work I experienced to do. I possibly didn’t believe about it a entire whole lot about that, for the reason that it was a occupation I was requested to do.”
As is normally the scenario, time adjusted his check out on that assignment, other activities revealing the gravity of what he’d been tasked with performing.
The to start with of these occurrences was his personal particular tragedy — the reduction of a son, who died in a automobile wreck in 1983.
“When a family members loses a kid, it’s not the exact as getting rid of a partner,” he reported. After the decline of his have son, Keck said he commenced to feel back to 1966, accompanying the physique of Pfc. Bryant back to the deceased soldier’s hometown, of the deep decline his moms and dads must have felt.
Five years afterwards, in 1988, Keck stated he and his wife, Donna, have been viewing the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., when he observed Bryant’s name etched in the monument.
“I explained to my wife, then, I wanted to go back to that grave some working day and visit the family members.”
Only challenge was, Keck explained he couldn’t remember the name of the town, or the funeral household, or even the church wherever the soldier was buried.
“I have household in and all over Richmond, Virginia, and I asked them to see if they could obtain a cemetery there with his headstone and name on it, to no avail.”
He manufactured other makes an attempt at seeking to find the burial internet site, but all were similarly fruitless, even though he still harbored some hope of locating his way at some stage.
Then arrived a residence cleansing undertaking last thirty day period, during which Keck learned numerous of his navy papers.
And there, in his aged briefcase, had been the orders he obtained so a lot of decades ago, in this sort of superior form they appeared as if they may possibly have been freshly typed that day — and they clearly confirmed the human body experienced been taken to Dunkum Funeral Dwelling in Dillwyn.
“It was June 4 I acquired the records out, uncovered the orders,” Keck recalled.
An internet lookup showed the funeral home was nonetheless in business, and a fast contact experienced him in touch with Karen Dunkum, whose husband’s loved ones had been handling the funeral household for generations. She took down the suitable details, then they hung up.
Fewer than a fifty percent-hour later on, she returned Keck’s call.
Sure, she stated they continue to experienced all of the appropriate data. Sure, they experienced the title of the church the place he was buried — Maple Grove Pentecostal. And certainly, he however experienced family dwelling in the spot, Bryant’s more youthful brother, who was now 75.
And 1 more piece of facts — that day, June 4, when Keck identified the old armed forces documents, when he contacted Dunkum, was Bryant’s birthday. He would have been 78 on that working day.
“Cold chills ran about me,” Keck reported. “I’d been searching for that for so extended. It had been 55 years…and to find that on his birthday.”
Bryant’s brother, Richard Bryant, remembered Keck and mentioned he was nervous to meet him once again. So on June 13, Keck and his spouse took an early early morning push to Dillwyn.
There, he mentioned they satisfied Richard Bryant as properly as Karen Dunkum. They attended church that morning at Maple Grove Pentecostal, and afterward the group walked out to Bryant’s grave, in which Keck placed bouquets and an American flag.
“For me, it was extremely psychological, I broke down,” he claimed, developing solemn at the memory. “I have these types of a true, genuine love for my country and for these adult males who died. It’s often hard to speak about it, even now…It’s a genuine link, I’ll notify you that.”
Keck stated that whilst it is regular for people today to feel about people who have died in support on Memorial Working day, and to thank people who have served on Veteran’s Working day, other vacations, these kinds of as Independence Day, make him assume of males and women this kind of as Bryant, who sacrificed their lives in support to the nation.
For Keck, he reported creating the excursion last thirty day period, so quite a few several years right after that initial coach journey to Dillwyn, was “something I experienced to do. It was all out of respect for him and his family members.”