Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States…a day set aside for honoring and mourning the military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
These are four very different stories about soldiers who either died in battle or spent their lives honoring their fellow comrades who, to them, were indeed fallen heroes.
Among the first American Dough boys to be sent to the front, James Gresham was a Hoosier who would be one of the first American soldiers to reach the battlefield in France and one of the first to give his life in the First World War. He was an average American from humble beginnings whose life was consistently characterized by personal sacrifice: both at home in Evansville, where he chose working to support his family over continuing his education, and on the Western Front where he was among the first Americans in World War I to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country and its ideals. James Bethel Gresham was one of America’s first fallen heroes in France whose actions, throughout his life, reflected a sense of duty and selflessness that we have now come to expect of the American soldier and citizen.
Jim Radford didn’t die in combat, but he did much to make sure those who died were remembered.
He was the youngest known participant in the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
He was a 15 year old ‘galley boy’ serving with the Merchant Navy on the Empire Larch. The Merchant Navy was not officially allowed to sign up under-16 year olds, but the teenager had found a towing company who turned a blind eye to his age.
His first deep sea trip took him to Normandy to help build the Mulberry Harbour, allowing the Royal Navy to transport personnel, vehicles and supplies onto the beaches.
Twenty-five years later Jim returned to find a very different scene. Children were playing where soldiers had died and Jim was moved to tears. His emotional song tells that story.
Jim released his music to raise funds for the British Normandy Memorial.
Army Master Sgt. James G. Cates
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that Army Master Sgt. James G. Cates, 29, of Philadelphia, Mississippi, killed during the Korean War, was accounted for on May 31, 2019.
In late November 1950, Cates was a member of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Approximately 2,500 U.S. and 700 South Korean soldiers assembled into the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), which was deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, when it was attacked by overwhelming numbers of Chinese forces. The American forces withdrew south with the Chinese attacks continuing. By December 6, the U.S. Army evacuated approximately 1,500 wounded service members; the remaining Soldiers had been either captured, killed or went missing in enemy territory. Because Cates could not be accounted for by his unit at the end of the battle, he was reported missing in action as of Dec. 3, 1950.
In September 1954, as part of Operation Glory, where the United Nations Command, Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces and Korean People’s Army exchanged war dead at Munsan-ni, South Korea, the United Nations received 25 sets of remains reported to have been recovered from isolated burial sites east of the Chosin Reservoir. The remains were sent to the Central Identification Unit for attempted identification. One set, designated X-15903 was declared unidentifiable. They were then transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP,) known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu and were interred as Unknown.
In February 2013, following thorough historical and scientific analysis, X-15903 was disinterred from the Punchbowl and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
To identify Cates’ remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Today, 7,631 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously returned by Korean officials, recovered from Korea by American recovery teams or disinterred from unknown graves. Cates’ name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl along with others who are missing from the Korean War. A rosette was placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Williams
“The Man at the Wall”
He became an icon, even though relatively few people knew who he was.
Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Williams continued to serve his country long after retiring from his 20 years in uniform.
Williams was portrayed as “The Man at The Wall” in the “Reflections” print. His head was bowed and eyes closed in grief, with a hand pressed against a few of the more than 58,000 names that are etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The names are those of American servicemen and women who died in Vietnam or later succumbed to wounds they received there.
“The Man at The Wall” cannot see that another hand is pressing against his, and that the shades of several soldiers and nurses are looking back at him. (Eight women, all of them nurses, are among America’s Vietnam War dead).
Williams was one of the first to join the Vietnam Veterans of America and played a part in creating Cumberland Chapter 172 of the VVA when it was formed in 1984.
“Jim was a great patriot, serving his country with honor and pride,” Chapter President Bob Cook said.
“Jim posed for Lee Teter (who painted the original ‘Reflections’) as being a businessman visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall,” said Cook. “And one can infer what is going through this man’s mind and heart while honoring those names on The Wall.
Even if they didn’t know his name, it’s likely that millions of men and women loved him because of what he represented.
He represented them … and the pain, loss and survivor’s guilt they felt for those who didn’t come home with them, some of whom they had grown to love and think of as family, a bond that cannot be understood by those who haven’t been a part of something like it.
“Jim was a very humble person,” said Sours. “He never brought it up in the 20 years I knew him, and that’s the way he wanted it.”
Sours said Williams hadn’t believed he deserved to be in the print because he had never been in combat. He accepted the role because of what “Reflections” represented and because it would help Chapter 172.
“Every Vietnam veteran in this country should feel the way I feel about Jim because of what he did for them with that print,” Sours said.
The VVA was founded in 1979 with the motto, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”