Monday, May 25, 2020
The beginnings of Memorial Day are a bit confused. Apparently, the May holiday began as Decoration Day on May 5, 1868, three years after the conclusion of the Civil War as a time to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.” Cities in both the north and the south, however, claim to have begun celebrating Memorial Day in 1866. President Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1966, declared Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and its celebration was also moved from May 30 to the last Monday of May.
Although we decorate the graves of our deceased loved ones on Memorial Day, it is significant that this holiday was created to remember those who gave their lives protecting our nation and our freedoms. To my knowledge, I have only one relative who died during any of America’s major conflicts, but strangely he was not killed in action. My father served in World War II, arriving in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. He, of course, survived the war unharmed, stayed for part of the occupation, then returned home to graduate from college on the GI Bill, marry, and start a family. He is now 95 years old, definitely a member of the Greatest Generation. Yesterday we visited him and took him to the North Ogden Cemetery, where we placed flowers on my mother’s grave and the graves of a few of her ancestors. It was her family that settled the rocky bench in North Ogden in the nineteenth century, the place where I grew up.
Today, my sister, who has recently retired and moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Hurricane, Utah, visited the graves of our father’s parents and a few of his siblings who are buried in southern Utah in Washington, St. George, and Enterprise. She left flowers in Enterprise on the grave of an uncle neither of us ever knew, our dad’s older brother, Amos.
In December 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Amos told his parents that he had enlisted in the military. “I joined the army to help my Country in a time of need,” he wrote to them in a letter. One thing he had said to them some time earlier troubled them greatly, however. “I feel like I will meet my death by murder.” After completing his basic training, Amos was apparently stationed near Blythe, California, in 1943. Blythe is due north of Yuma, Arizona, and east of Palm Springs. It has a hot desert climate with scorching summers and mild winters. Amos wrote to his parents regularly from Blythe, while they were serving a temple mission in the St. George Temple, until, at some unspecified time, the letters suddenly stopped. This worried his parents. In the meantime, my dad was also inducted into the army, having turned 18 in April 1943.
In summer 1943, Frank and Eunetta Terry received a letter dated July 12, 1943, from LeRoy Radford, commanding officer of Battery A in the 195th Field Artillery Battalion, informing them that their son, Private Amos F. Terry, 19011982, was “absent from his organization without proper authority.” In other words, he was AWOL. Radford assumed he had deserted while the company was on maneuvers in the desert. My grandfather wrote Lt. Radford, letting him know that Amos would have never deserted, so he must be the victim of foul play. In August, Radford responded that “your son is missing and not dead. That he has merely become divorced from the Military Service by his own action.”
My grandparents were convinced this was not the case, and, although they were very poor, they traveled to California to search the area where Amos had gone missing. They didn’t find anything. But on February 26, 1944, a young man named David Mott, who was hunting rabbits about four miles north and a little west of Blythe, found the skeleton of a soldier. The remains were identified by the tags that were still in his clothing as Pvt. Amos F. Terry. He had died from a gunshot wound that entered his skull a little above and behind the right ear and exited near his left eye. According to the coroner, his head had been beaten after he had been shot.
After much trouble, the remains were shipped by rail to Modena in Southern Utah, where they were met by my dad, who had been sent home from Ft. Riley, Kansas, to accompany his brother’s body to Enterprise, where he was buried. My dad then returned to Ft. Riley before being shipped overseas.
Some time after the funeral, my grandparents traveled to California again because the army was trying to deny them Amos’s back pay. While there, they tried to learn more about how Amos had died. They spoke with the district attorney, who told them, according to my grandfather’s account, “Mr and Mrs Terry We know enough about murder to know that your son was not killed on the spot where his remains were found and we know enough about murder to know that he was not shot from close up.” My grandfather also recorded this: “On this trip to California we had stopped for lunch at a Café[.] A Young man eating by my side upon learning the nature of my trip informed me that the day before seven soldiers (7) were brought in there that had been found in the desert all had been shot in the head I also was told of Eleven (11) others who were found on a knol almost Covered in sand all shot in the head[.] No doubt some of those branded with desertion to swell the ranks of the California armys AWOL list (Be it here known that I can only state these matters as they were told me) True or untrue I know not. but the weight of evidence and suspicion seems heavily to prove that some one was sabatogeing on our boys in the army and in the seldom traversed desert region.” Grandpa recalled hearing on the radio some time before Amos’s disappearance that more soldiers deserted in California than in the rest of the army combined. He now wondered how many of them had merely disappeared in the desert with a bullet hole in their skulls.
Grandpa’s personal history also recounts the following: “We did much correspondance with various branches of the military also with our sons Buddies in the army And this we learned from the boys who were his close chums That Amos Franks superior officers had for months heaped upon him many unreasonably difficult tasks after long days of endurance tests in the deserts and upon this particular night They had come into Camp after mid night and sargeant Chauncy B Creason ordered him to take cary a heavy machine gun and its equipment over a mountain and set it up. Amos Frank Jr Feeling this to be an unreasonable request said ‘I will take a light truck and another man and we will set it up,’ The Sargeant replied ‘No you go alone Understand. No one with you’ Did he want to get him alone to murder him or not why not be reasonable you answer? To Carry this load our son felt he could not and he replied ‘Sargeant you know that this is an unreasonable request’ The sargeant replied ‘Terry Ill deal with you’ And our son was immediately put under arrest[.]
“The next morning our son was missing and the sargeant was the first man on the ground to announce that ‘Terry was missing’ This information from one Sanford A Perry a buddy to Amos Frank Jr The two being the Champion Boxers in the army they often Put on Boxing exibitions. From appearances Amos was dealt with.”
My grandfather tried to get the military to investigate his son’s murder, but they had a war to prosecute and didn’t seem very enthused to look into incidents like these. So my grandparents never learned what had happened to their oldest son. I’m sure the heartbreak lasted until they died, Frank in 1967 and Eunetta in 1968.
So today, Memorial Day, some 77 years after Amos’s murder while serving in the U.S. Army in California, I am thinking about the uncle I never knew, the only relative I know of who died during a war, but he was not killed in action. He was murdered, perhaps by his commanding officer. His death was never investigated.