55 years later

On a recent warm summer time Sunday, in a distant, sunbathed cemetery in central Virginia, a Mount Airy person concluded a journey 33 several years in the building.

And in so accomplishing, he was reminded that the celebrations several across the nation take pleasure in currently, on Independence Working day, has appear with a terrible cost for lots of in the course of the nation’s record.

Roger Keck’s go to to the little cemetery at Maple Grove Pentecostal Church just exterior of Dillwyn, Virginia, was a trip he’d been wanting to make considering that 1988. In some respects, it was a journey he’d been on considering the fact that 1966, the very first and up until now only, time he’d ever visited the Virginia city.

That 1st time, in August of 1966, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, sent there with a sacred assignment — he was accompanying the physique of Pfc. David Banking companies Bryant, who at 23 experienced been killed in Vietnam.

“I obtained orders to escort his system house,” Keck stated not long ago, recalling that solemn prepare excursion virtually 6 decades ago. Keck was stationed at Fort Jackson, in South Carolina, nearing the finish of his five-yr stent in the military.

His assignment was in some strategies easy — he would accompany the body household, see that it was acquired appropriately at a nearby funeral residence there, then stand check out over the fallen soldier’s human body each and every day for 5 days, until the deceased soldier was laid to rest.

Keck stated it was a unhappy assignment, to be certain — watching a household, in this scenario moms and dads, a brother and a sister, acquire the human body of their cherished a single is a complicated expertise, but the pounds of his obligation did not completely sink in at the time.

“At the time, I was young. It was a task I experienced to do. I likely did not believe about it a total lot about that, because it was a occupation I was purchased to do.”

As is usually the case, time changed his perspective on that assignment, other occasions revealing the gravity of what he’d been tasked with undertaking.

The very first of individuals occurrences was his own individual tragedy — the decline of a son, who died in a motor vehicle wreck in 1983.

“When a family members loses a child, it is not the very same as getting rid of a husband or wife,” he claimed. Immediately after the decline of his possess son, Keck claimed he started to consider again to 1966, accompanying the physique of Pfc. Bryant back again to the deceased soldier’s hometown, of the deep loss his moms and dads must have felt.

Five yrs later, in 1988, Keck stated he and his wife, Donna, have been viewing the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., when he found Bryant’s title etched in the monument.

“I informed my wife, then, I wanted to go back to that grave some working day and visit the household.”

Only issue was, Keck reported he couldn’t don’t forget the identify of the city, or the funeral dwelling, or even the church exactly where the soldier was buried.

“I have spouse and children in and about Richmond, Virginia, and I requested them to see if they could come across a cemetery there with his gravestone and identify on it, to no avail.”

He built other makes an attempt at making an attempt to come across the burial web-site, but all were equally fruitless, however he continue to harbored some hope of acquiring his way at some stage.

Then arrived a household cleaning challenge very last month, through which Keck discovered many of his armed forces papers.

And there, in his outdated briefcase, were being the orders he obtained so many many years in the past, in this sort of superior condition they appeared as if they could possibly have been freshly typed that working day — and they obviously confirmed the body experienced been taken to Dunkum Funeral Household in Dillwyn.

“It was June 4 I bought the information out, observed the orders,” Keck recalled.

An net search confirmed the funeral property was nevertheless in company, and a speedy get in touch with experienced him in contact with Karen Dunkum, whose husband’s spouse and children had been controlling the funeral dwelling for generations. She took down the related data, then they hung up.

Significantly less than a half-hour later, she returned Keck’s connect with.

Yes, she reported they continue to had all of the pertinent data. Sure, they had the name of the church the place he was buried — Maple Grove Pentecostal. And of course, he continue to had relatives dwelling in the area, Bryant’s young brother, who was now 75.

And one much more piece of info — that working day, June 4, when Keck identified the aged military services information, when he contacted Dunkum, was Bryant’s birthday. He would have been 78 on that day.

“Cold chills ran in excess of me,” Keck mentioned. “I’d been searching for that for so prolonged. It had been 55 years…and to discover that on his birthday.”

Bryant’s brother, Richard Bryant, remembered Keck and mentioned he was anxious to meet up with him again. So on June 13, Keck and his wife took an early morning drive to Dillwyn.

There, he explained they met Richard Bryant as very well as Karen Dunkum. They attended church that early morning at Maple Grove Pentecostal, and afterward the group walked out to Bryant’s grave, exactly where Keck placed bouquets and an American flag.

“For me, it was really emotional, I broke down,” he reported, rising solemn at the memory. “I have these a true, honest enjoy for my place and for these adult men who died. It’s at times difficult to communicate about it, even now…It’s a true connection, I’ll convey to you that.”

Keck mentioned that even though it is typical for persons to consider about individuals who have died in services on Memorial Day, and to thank individuals who have served on Veteran’s Working day, other vacations, this kind of as Independence Working day, make him feel of males and women these types of as Bryant, who sacrificed their lives in services to the country.

For Keck, he stated producing the excursion previous thirty day period, so several years after that 1st practice journey to Dillwyn, was “something I had to do. It was all out of respect for him and his household.”