They All Came Home
Wayne’s youngest brother, Harry Nordman Gray, returned to the United States on August 2, 1945. He celebrated his 19th birthday in Germany five weeks before. He was the last member of his family to have seen his brother, Verne, before Verne went overseas. Harry hadn’t seen his older brother, Wayne, since 1943.
Wayne’s younger brother, Robert Searls Gray, returned from Italy in 1945. The date, though, is lost to his family.
Ken Cline’s brother, Art, deployed from Guam to Japan in November 1945 as part of the occupation force. The 64th Engineer Topographic Battalion sailed from Guam on 4 November and arrived at Yokohama, Japan on 13 November 1945.1 On 15 November, the unit moved into the Isetan Department Store building and occupied the floors above floor three. The building stood undamaged at the intersection of Shinjuku-dori and Meiji-dori in Tokyo2 in a area mostly destroyed by incendiary bombs. The Isetan building was both their office and living quarters.3 Art would later speak of how cold the winter of 1945/46 was in Tokyo. Often without electricity, they operated sometimes by lantern light and were warmed by kerosene heaters. He returned home in 1946 in time for Easter, which fell on April 21.
In 1946, Congress authorized the return of the remains of those who had died overseas for burial in either national or private cemeteries. About 56% of the families that lost sons chose to bring them home. The U.S. Army Quartermaster General was in charge of the program. Graves Registration units had the grisly task of recovering the remains. The first shipment of caskets arrived at New York and at San Francisco in October 1947. After the caskets were offloaded from cargo ships, they were loaded on special Mortuary Cars for delivery to their final destination.4 Over four years’ time, 233,181 American dead were returned for burial in the U.S.5
Bonnie’s brother, Ernest Gibbons, returned home in 1947. His body, which had been interred in an American Cemetery in Europe, was delivered to Columbia, South Carolina. He was buried in Crescent Hill Memorial Gardens on December 17, 1947.
Verne Gray returned home in 1948. His remains, which had been interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery6 near Maargraten in the Netherlands, were returned to Colorado. He was buried in his wife’s home town on December 13, 1948. She was buried next to him 43 years later.
Verne was laid in his final resting place on December 13, his mother’s 50th birthday. A Gold Star Mother, she did live to see his return. She passed away in the early morning hours of July 10, 1948. She was 49. Her remains rest at Rose Hills Memorial Park at Whittier, California.
The remains of Wayne’s close friend, Stanley L. Seehorn, along with those of Howard D. Sanford and John V. Loughlin, were recovered from Mt. Binalia in 1947 by a team led by Australian Flight Lieutenant Harry Belcher.7 Their remains and those of the other 14 men who died in the crash of the three B-25s8 on 01 January 1945 were initially interred at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.9
In 1948, the remains of nine of those that died in that crash were returned to their families for burial. The remains of Stan Seehorn, Howard Sanford and John Loughlin along with those of Walter C. Gillete, Jr. and Ralph L. Newton were returned to the U.S. but not returned to they families. They were buried on November 7, 1949 in a common grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery outside of St. Louis, Missouri10. Three crew members remain at Manila.
With the return of bodies for reburial and subsequent funerals, the anguish of the war lasted far beyond its end. For many, the memory never ended . . . .
Notes & Commentary
1 Office of the Chief Engineer, General Headquarter Army Force, Pacific. Engineers of the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1945: Reports of Operations [of The] United States Army Forces in the Far East, Southwest Pacific Area, Army Forces, Pacific, Volume 3. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948, p. 198 ((https://books.google.com/books?id=MxkTR5oVkCMC : accessed 04 July 2015)
2 Richard Saul Wurman. Tokyo Access. Los Angeles: ACCESSPRess Ltd., 1984. p. 158.
3 The Isetan Building was occupied by the Allied units until 1952.
During World War II, Isetan remained open for business almost until the end of the war, although its displays grew barer and its sales area gradually shrank to 50 percent of prewar levels. Escalators and elevators were removed and melted down for the war effort in 1943. That year, Isetan was asked by the Imperial Japanese Army to manage a hotel and store taken over by the Japanese in Sumatra, which it did until the end of the war. The Allied fire bomb raids on the night of March 10, 1945, devastated large areas of Tokyo, reducing the old Kanda store to ashes, but Isetan’s flagship store remained standing. Quick action that night on the part of employees put out a fire that threatened to rage out of control; neighboring buildings, however, were not so lucky.
According to one of his sons, Tanji Kosuge shrugged off the despondent comments of his employees on August 15, 1945, the day the Japanese emperor announced Japan’s surrender. “What are you saying? The store’s still standing, isn’t it? You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’m going back to work tomorrow.” Kosuge’s wish for a quick return to business as usual was not fulfilled for several years, however. Apart from the problem of the lack of merchandise, the Allied occupation authorities had taken a liking to the building, and in 1945 requisitioned it for Allied use from the third floor up. Not until the end of the occupation, in 1952, would Isetan have the building to itself again. The building was taken over by Allied forces on 17 October 1945.
“Surviving World War II and the Allied Occupation, Isetan Company Limited,” Encyclopedia.com (http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Isetan_Company_Limited.aspx : accessed 04 July 2015).
4 “World War II Fallen Servicemen Repatriation Program – November 1947,” Brooklyn Army Terminal & Bush Terminal. (http://members.trainweb.com/bedt/milrr/batbtww2repat.html : accessed 06 July 2015).
5 The period during which bodies were returned for reburial is little known today. Those that see a military tombstone with a death date during the war don’t know how the body came to be there. The memory of that time has been put aside. Few are left who remember it.
It was time of constant sorrow, especially in small-town America where people grew up together and neighbors knew neighbors and their children. For them, it didn’t happen to someone else. They shared the loss. For over half a decade after the war, obituaries for lost men appeared in local newspapers and funerals were held with full military honors. The forlorn sound of Taps was a reminder of families’ loss. There were some that never wanted to hear that sound again. Those today that glorify the Greatest Generation fail to remember that the greatest of that generation died or went missing long, long ago.
One of the few books that addresses that time is David P.Colley’s book, Safely Rest:
It was a parade of sorts that began shortly after the Joseph V. Connolly sailed past Ambrose Light, through the Narrows, and glided slowly into New York harbor in the early morning haze of October 26, 1947. Two sleek navy destroyers, the USS Bristol and the USS Beatty, and the gleaming white Coast Guard cutter, Spencer, wheeled into position to escort the Liberty Ship as their crews snapped to rigid attention along the guardrails. On the Connolly’s boat deck an honor guard surrounded a solitary flag-draped coffin that stood out in the defused autumn light, a swatch of red, white and blue against the ships gray flanks. The Connolly approached the towering mass of New York City as the huge 16-inch guns of the battleship, USS Missouri, boomed a salute that echoed off the New Jersey Palisades and back through Manhattan’s man-made canyons. The thunder of the guns rolled away, and a flight of fighter planes roared overhead before gracefully turning to leave the city’s streets in an unnatural quiet. To fill the sudden void, a lone marine on the Bristol’s fantail raised his bugle and sounded Church Call. As the notes drifted away, a somber voice broke the silence to deliver a prayer.
The Connolly slipped into Pier 61 at West Twenty-first Street in Manhattan with a reassuring nudge, marking the end of a journey to fulfill a long-held promise of a grateful nation in bringing her cargo safely home. The accompanying tugboats reversed screws and withdrew in a rush of churning water and pounding engines as the crew cast the Connolly’s lines ashore and she was firmly secured. In her reinforced holds she carried 6,248 coffins containing the remains of American soldiers killed in the European theater of World War II. The casket on deck, bearing an unnamed medal of honor winner killed in the Battle of the Bulge, was a symbol of all the young men who were coming home on the Connolly and of the scores of thousands more American dead who also would be returned in the months and years ahead.
At 12:45 p.m. the heavy steel sarcophagus was carried ashore by pallbearers representing all the nation’s armed services and placed on a caisson that was hitched to a turreted armored car. A bugle sounded, onlookers wiped away tears, and the procession began, solemnly, quietly, 6,000 men strong, as it moved up Fifth Avenue, past the first ranks of 400,000 New Yorkers who lined the sidewalks on this warm autumn day to pay final tribute to the nation’s war dead.
This was very different from the victory parade and celebration two years earlier in 1945 when frenzied, elated, and war weary New Yorkers welcomed the return of their proud and triumphant fighting men, who marched along the same route in battle dress. The war had been won and all thoughts were to the future and to the living, not to the past and to the dead. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower was among the soldiers, seamen, and airmen passing in review in 1945, and smartly dressed, khaki clad “Ike”, seated in the back of an open limousine, greeted the throngs in his typical public salute of outstretched arms and broad smile. The din from the cheering crowds had filled the avenue, and a festive blizzard of ticker tape and confetti swirled down to blanket the street along the way. The parade route was festooned with signs: “Welcome Home” and “Well Done.” The people of New York were delirious.
In October 1947, the old welcome signs from ’45 were still visible, but faded, and an eerie silence greeted the marching ranks as they filled up Fifth Avenue, stopping briefly in Madison Square at Twenty-second Street. They moved on, through the shadow of the Empire State Building on Thirty-fourth Street, past the public library on Forty-second Street, and on toward Central Park. There was no confetti or ticker tape and no roaring crowds, only the sound of muffled footsteps and the hollow clop of horses’ hooves. Many in the crowd sobbed openly and prayed as the military formations passed, led by mounted New York City policemen, followed by contingents of West Point cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen, soldiers from the Eighty-second Airborne Division, marines and sailors, and members of civic groups from the city of New York. Behind them came the caisson bearing the flag-draped coffin.
A band in the procession struck up a funereal, Onward Christian Soldiers, and muted bells tolled as it passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral with its flag at half-mast. At Sixty-third and Fifth Avenue a diminutive city street sweeper raised his broom rigidly with his left hand in a present arms and snapped a salute with his right hand as the coffin went by. The marchers turned into Central Park at Seventy-second Street and advanced into the Sheep Meadow where forty thousand mourners had assembled to see the casket lifted from its caisson by pallbearers, who solemnly carried it forward and placed it on a purple and black catafalque. As the day wore on and a heat haze settled over the Sheep Meadow, the crowd swelled to 150,000.
Chaplains of three faiths offered prayers for the souls of the war dead and for solace and peace for their loved ones. Speakers eulogized the fallen warriors of World War II; Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall represented the nation, Governor Thomas E. Dewey came on behalf of the state of New York, and Mayor William O’Dwyer appeared for the city. Maj. Gen. Harry H. Vaughan, President Harry S. Truman’s military aide, placed a wreath on the coffin. At 4 p.m. a seven-man honor guard fired a three-volley salute, a drummer began a slow roll, and a mournful Taps sounded across the Sheep Meadow as the setting sun backlit the skyline to cast ever lengthening shadows across the park. Another, distant bugler beyond a stand of trees echoed with the same faint quivering notes. The pallbearers returned the casket to the caisson as the West Point band played Nearer My God To Thee. The public ceremonies ended, and the assembled onlookers filed home to continue their lives. The casket was carried away and returned to the Connolly from whence the body would make its way home to Ohio or maybe Alabama, where a mother, a father, a brother, and a wife would accompany the remains to a final resting place. For these American families, life would never be the same.
In San Francisco, a similar ceremony took place under an overcast October sky as the army transport ship Honda Knot slipped through the frigid waters beneath the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay. An aerial escort of forty-eight fighter planes flew over the vessel before dipping their wings in salute and banking away. Surface ships from the Coast Guard and the Navy approached the Honda Knot and led her through a misting rain to anchorage off Marina Point, where a gathering of five thousand mourners waited to pay tribute to the war dead that the ship was delivering home to American soil from the Pacific theater. A navy launch approached the Honda Knot and offered another massive wreath from President Truman. Dignitaries in the audience included Army General Mark Clark, who had led American troops in Italy during the war, and the Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan, who honored these fallen heroes, many of whom had passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on ships bound for the Pacific war.
Six of the 3,012 flag-draped coffins aboard the Honda Knot were removed the next day to lie in state in the rotunda of San Francisco’s city hall, where ordinary citizens of a sorrowful nation paid their last respects. The six dead represented servicemen from the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard, along with a civilian, all killed in the war. From the early morning until late that night, thousands of mourners filed by the coffins or knelt in prayer by their sides.
The arrival of the Honda Knot and the Joseph V. Connolly officially initiated what one observer called the “most melancholy immigration movement in the history of man”, the return to the United States of 233,181 American dead after the end of World War II. America’s army of fallen warriors was coming home from the four corners of the earth, from Guadalcanal and Australia, from New Guinea, Japan, China, and Burma in the Pacific theater. From the Mediterranean theater men were returned from Libya, Sicily, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Romania. The bodies of men who had died in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany also came home. Most had been killed in action or had died of wounds from direct combat against the enemy.
In New York, the day after the symbolic funeral for all the nation’s dead, the Connolly moved to the Brooklyn army base, where longshoremen began unloading her cargo of steel caskets and preparing them for shipment. Workers also began unloading the Honda Knot the day after the viewing in San Francisco’s city hall. Her cargo of dead had gone to war expecting one day to return to friends and family. They would be home within ten to thirty days.
At the war’s end families who lost sons, brothers, and husbands in the conflict were asked where they wished the remains of their sons to be interred, in the United States or overseas in an American military cemetery. Congress had passed legislation authorizing repatriation of the bodies, and the majority of the families wanted their boys returned to private burial plots or to a national cemetery nearby.
Not all the dead were returned to U.S. soil. An additional 93,242 men were buried in overseas American cemeteries because the families believed it more appropriate for them to rest with comrades near the battlefields where they had died.
The families of 78,976 dead soldiers had no choice; their sons were listed as missing in action, and their remains were never recovered. Today the number of missing has been reduced by only a trifle; about seventy-eight thousand Americans who went off to World War II are still listed as lost. Among those still missing are about eight thousand men whose bodies had been recovered but whose identities are unknown. Their remains are buried in American cemeteries overseas.
The entire repatriation and overseas reburial program took six years to complete, from 1945 to 1951, at a cost of $200,000,000 in 1945 dollars—several billion today. It wasn’t the first American repatriation program following a foreign war, but it was the most extensive. More than twelve hundred U.S. dead were returned for burial after the Spanish-American War, and about 46,292 were repatriated from France after World War I. Another 30,921 U.S. soldiers who died in World War I were buried in eight American military cemeteries in France following that conflict.
The vast reburial program after World War II is all but forgotten today. There is no glory in the saga of the dead, and this operation was not connected to any massive invasion armada or to a victorious battle or campaign where heroes were made. It was conducted for the most part in obscurity, and the men of this huge army of the dead were mute.
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The nation glorifies World War II; it was called the Great Crusade, and we now idolize the men of the Greatest Generation and immortalize the dwindling legions of these heroes constantly in film and in literature. In so doing we have lost touch with the immense pain and suffering caused by the war and the ripples of sorrow that still flow across America from that devastating conflict. We know little of the men who gave their lives and nothing about the struggles of their families.
David P. Colley. Safely Rest. New York: Penguin Group, 2004, pp. 1-6. (http://www.amazon.com/Safely-Rest-David-Colley/dp/B000H2MEQY/). Also see “Prologue,” Memorial Day Foundation. (http://www.memorialdayfoundation.org/articles/safely-rest.html : accessed 07 July 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Safely-Rest-David-Colley/dp/B000H2MEQY/.
6 “Netherlands American Cemetery,” American Battle Monuments Commission. (http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/netherlands-american-cemetery#.VW_XxP3bKHt : accessed 3 June 2015).
7 The Daily News of Perth, Western Australia, carried the following article about Harry Belcher in February 1948:
Scours Islands For Wreckage
Darwin, Sat – Having searched islands of the South-West Pacifice since June, 1946, for crashed planes of the Allied air forces, Flight Lieutenant Harry Belcher, of the R.A.A.F. Search and Recovery Unit, is on his way home to Sydney for discharge.
But only so that he can go back and resume his work as a civilian.
Since June, 1946, he has, with his mixed team of Australian and American air force men:
◊ Located for than 50 crashed aircraft;
◊ Found no crews alive;
◊ Worked in liaison with 13 Squadron of the American Air Force, which lent him a Catalina and a pilot;
◊ In 12 months flown more than 1200 hours, and combed the islands of Ceram, Ambon, Halamahera, Borneo and others.
He found 15 crashed aircraft at Ambon, 17 at Ceram and 14 in the Halamahera Islands.
Belcher took the Catalina up unexplored tropical rivers, through jungle-covered gorges and in to the heart of country rarely reached by white men.
Once a crashed plane was located, a ground team would trek in, while the Catalina dropped food and guiding directions. Layer the plane would fly remains of the crashed plane’s crew to the war cemetery.
About 500 bodies of Australian and British dead were flown from Balikpapan, Borneo to the war cemetery at Sandakan.
Natives proved of great assistance in wild country and would set in motion the “jungle wireless” which often brought out facts about crashes.
Belcher is wedded to his task. “It is tragic work, but I feel that it must be done,” he said.
He will now work with the American forces at Manila as a civilian to carry on his search.
Belcher says that it will be years before the islands give up all their secrets about the war’s missing personnel.”
“Scours Islands For Wreckage.” The Daily News (Perth, Western Australia), 28 February 1948, p. 9. Trove. (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/79682148 : accessed 22 June 2015).
8 “January 1, 1945”. Wayne’s Journal (https://waynes-journal.com/2015/01/01/january-1-1945/).
9 Manila American Cemetery, American Battle Monuments Commission (http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/pacific/manila-american-cemetery#.VY76N_3bKHs : accessed 27 June 2015).
10 “Seehorn, Stanley L.” Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis County, Missouri. Interment.net. Clear Digital Media, Inc. (http://www.interment.net/data/us/mo/stlouis/jeffbarr/s/jeffbarr_s10.htm : accessed 26 June 2015)