Monthly Archives: November 2015

Wilber’s grave in Arlington Cemetery

My dad, Wilber, was buried in Arlington Cemetery on a dark drizzly December afternoon of 1945. He died by his own hand, of suicide, only six weeks after returning home from a three-year deployment in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He had earned five medals and suffered two wounds during three phases of combat. There was a simple service in the cemetery chapel and a military burial, complete with a rifle salute and the ceremonial folding of the burial flag which was given to my mother.

Wilber's gravestone, rear view. Credit: Bart Hoskins.
Wilber’s gravestone, rear view. Credit: Bart Hoskins.

My son-in-law, now on temporary duty with the EPA in Washington, D.C., kindly took photographs of the gravesite and its surroundings for me. They brought back the memories of that sad day; I was just four days shy of my 15th birthday. My sister Valerie, then 14, refused to come. We were only a small group of friends and family. Wilber’s two brothers were there as was General Joseph Cleland with whom my dad had served in the Philippines. He was Norma’s escort.

A burial site was reserved for Norma next to Wilber but her eligibility for burial there ceased when she remarried. In her grief, she gave the wrong date, Feb. 2, 1900, for Wilber’s birth and that ended up on his gravestone. He was born on Feb. 1, 1900, but was always kidded about being born the day before Groundhog Day so there was often confusion about the date. Some years later, after the marble had been degraded by atmospheric pollutants, the stone was replaced with a new one that had the correct date.

Wilber's grave looking toward Porter Drive, showing red fire hydrant at left edge of tree.
Wilber’s grave looking toward Porter Drive, showing (barely if enlarged) the top of the red fire hydrant at left edge of the tree.

If you are visiting Arlington Cemetery, Wilber’s grave can be found in Section 10, number 10-10599RH. Proceed east on Eisenhower Drive to Section 10, turn right onto Porter Drive. At the red fire hydrant turn right again onto the grass and count rows heading straight for the tree in or at row 4. Keep going; Wilber’s grave is in row 6. The stone is labeled 10-10599RH.

This brings to mind, Wilber’s letter about the memorial service at Munda Cemetery in the Solomon Islands on Armistice Day 1943; see my previous blog on Veterans Day. For him, it was “so, so sad” because three of his junior officers were there in the cemetery. It seems now that Wilber was describing his own burial, which took place two short years later. Today, it is we living who are “so, so sad.”

Veterans Day op-ed

The Daily Caller published my op-ed recalling Veterans Day 1943. Wilber, had lost three forward observers (young lieutenants who spotted artillery fires from the front lines) in the previous three months of fighting in the Solomon Islands. On Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, the division gathered at Munda cemetery for a memorial service. The day before, he wrote to my mother:

Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]
Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]

“The Armistice Day will be a religious service for our dead who are in this island. It will be a sad Armistice for us for Lieutenants Payne and Malone and Heidelberger will be there in the cemetery from the 169th. However each was doing a grand job when his time came.”

A few days later he described the service to my sister: “We attended a religious and military memorial service on Armistice Day in honor of our dead comrades. We stood at salute while the firing squad fired a volley for each battalion or regiment that had one or more men killed. For us the speaker said ‘For 1st Lt —, the first to fall in the 169th, and his brave comrades that followed.’ Then the volley was fired. It was a beautiful spot that had been made into a cemetery and the service was lovely but so, so sad. I hope too many more don’t ‘follow’ in the next year.”

Thus passed Veterans Day in 1943.

Halloween during war

On halloween, 1943, my father wrote from the Solomon Islands to the wife of one of his artillery 2316 169FA Officers, chapel Ondongaofficers, Dixwell Goff, of Rhode Island, giving him great praise. He wrote: “I saw him save scores of lives for our infantry by placing artillery fire exactly where the Japs were sure we couldn’t put it. I watched him in a critical time adjust our artillery fire so close in to our troops that shell fragments fell all around those of us fifty yards farther back than Dixwell. That time he came back with that big grin and his eyes sparkling because he knew he had done a real Goff job.”  Two months later, the battalion officers were photographed outside their jungle chapel. On this photo our father’s face was circled in crayon by my young sister Valerie, and Goff is the second man to the right, with mustache.