CROFTON – Three volleys from seven M-1 Garand rifles rang out sharply, followed by the mournful notes of “Taps,” as a small group of family and friends of Korean War veteran James R. Williams and an American Legion honor guard stood solemnly at Ridgetop Cemetery.
The ceremony took place on a damp, chilly Thursday last week in northern Christian County, with overcast turning the sky and the scene gray. The atmosphere was tinged with sadness, but also celebration.
A soldier had finally received the honors he deserved, and Rick McBride, the soldier’s son-in-law, was at peace. And military veterans from the American Legion had accomplished their mission to put a long-lost grave marker in its rightful place.
“I’d like to thank you guys for everything,” McBride said. “This means a lot to me. It really does.
The story goes back to 1998, when a marble gravestone was delivered about a year after Mr. Williams’ death Feb. 16, 1997. It had a crack in it.
McBride showed it to his wife, and said, “Let’s send it back. Your dad deserves better than this.”
He says the family never received the replacement, nor any replies to his inquiries about it.
In December, a marble Veterans Administration marker was discovered leaning against a shed on property in the southern part of the county. It was found by a citizen, who wishes not to be identified. Why and how the stone came to be there is not known.
The citizen contacted two members of William A. Doyle Post 236 of the American Legion in Calvert City, Ross Langston and Leonard Harp, who took the gravestone to the post on Highway 95.
An effort to identify the person named on the stone resulted in several replies via email from genealogical researchers. First to respond was Jeff Holmes of Elizabethtown, a Calloway County native who learned Mr. Williams’ burial place via the website Ancestry.com.
However, the specific site of the grave could not be determined, so Post 236 resorted to sending a letter to the next of kin, according to the latest information on file, at a St. Charles, Ky., address.
The addressee was McBride’s wife. She died Oct. 30, less than two months before the gravestone was found.
She is buried alongside her mother and father in the Crofton cemetery. She was their only child.
“I was just at his grave two days before I received this letter,” McBride said. “I looked over at his grave. I called him ‘Old Man.’ I said, ‘Old Man, don’t you worry. I’m gonna get you a rock soon as I get the money,’ and two days later I get this letter in the mail. If that’s not God-sent, you tell me what it is.”
McBride contacted the Legion post and was invited to attend a meeting there Feb. 6. He expressed thanks for the effort to find the rightful place for the marker and plans were made to perform the military rites for Mr. Williams.
The ceremony marked the completion of a mission for Post 236, and ended what Harp called “a 14-and-a-half-year mystery” for the soldier’s family.
“I just wish my wife was here,” McBride said.
The military rites were performed for Mr. Williams exactly 15 years after his death Feb. 16, 1997, at age 66.
In attendance at Thursday’s ceremony with McBride were his son, Christopher, and fiancée Karen Crafton, of Nortonville; Janice McBride’s half-sister, Teresa Hunsinger, of Evansville, Ind.; and Tim Johnson, a family friend from Nortonville.
McBride remembers his father-in-law as “just a great guy – just an all-around great guy, a good father, a good father-in-law, a good grandfather. He loved his grandchildren.”
Mr. Williams, an Evansville native, never talked much about his service in the Korean War, McBride said.
“He talked like he went through a lot of stuff he’d rather leave behind, if he could,” McBride said.
Post 236 Chaplain George Culp, a Vietnam veteran, offered a prayer before the ceremony.
Harp and Langston are members of the Post’s Honor Guard, which has performed hundreds of ceremonies providing rites for veterans, mostly Marshall Countians, at their funerals.
“This is not one of our own at home,” Harp said. “We don’t know him, but we’re proud to honor this man that died 15 years ago and for the closure of getting that tombstone where it belongs.”