KOH2RVA: Day 260

old friendsIt’s Memorial Day, and it looks like a beauty. I just stepped out on the front porch to unfurl my flag and everything was so peaceful and sun-drenched—newspapers still on the front porches, absolute quiet on the street. Even now, as I take the first sips of my morning coffee, all I can hear is the birds singing in the back yard.

Lovely.

Yesterday I witnessed a Memorial Day moment that really was heaven on earth. Henry Kellam III (a member of First Baptist Church) invited me to his home where his father, a WW II veteran, was about to be reunited with an Army buddy he hadn’t seen since the war. Here’s an excerpt from the story that appeared in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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BY TED STRONG Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two old friends saw one another for the first time in 67 years Sunday.

In late May 1946, as seasoned veterans of the Burma front in World War II, they said goodbye at a New York train station. The pair had met at Army basic training in 1943 and been together, more or less, throughout the war, working on a road through the Asian jungle.

They planned to meet back up, but never did. Over the years, Henry H. Kellam Jr., 88, of Raleigh, N.C., and Preston Van Dyke, 89, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., were in and out of touch.

Kellam moved around before settling in Raleigh, where he worked at a Westinghouse plant for 35 years. Van Dyke became a New Jersey mailman.

The men’s reunion Sunday was arranged by their families, who recently got in touch with each other.

“You should have seen them crying when they first got together,” said Kellam’s son, Henry Kellam III.

Van Dyke was already headed to Staunton to meet a 4-month-old grandson, so the Kellams arranged for Henry Kellam Jr. to travel up from Raleigh, and the two men met at the home of Kellam’s son in Richmond’s Fan District.

“I just thought it would be a nice thing to do for him,” said Trudi Van Dyke-Simms, Van Dyke’s daughter.

The two veterans sat on a porch, had their photos taken, met each other’s families, swapped stories and looked through Kellam’s old scrapbook.

Old FriendsIt’s a treasure trove of a book, packed with photos taken with a box Kodak 620: temples, elephants, locals of all stripes, a cremation and suntanned soldiers.

Serving with an engineering unit, the two had been shipped across the U.S. and then across the Pacific. Van Dyke was also with Kellam at the U.S.O. function where Kellam met Thelma Hilbig, his future wife.

In Asia, they worked on the Ledo Road, which led from India across Burma to China, a U.S. ally in the fight against Japan. The road was intended to reduce the need for air supply across the Himalayas to Chinese forces.

Kellam, who ended his service as a technician fifth grade, is quick to say that he was never in combat. He did maintenance on machinery that was building the road and is modest about his contribution.

He recalled volunteering for duty guarding the stockade, because it meant he could get to Calcutta more. He was told to shoot the prisoners if they tried to escape.

“I told them I’d shoot them in the leg, maybe,” he recalled.

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It was truly moving to see these old friends together again for the first time in all these years. When I told them I needed to go Henry III asked if I would say a prayer. I did, and as I recall I said something about how reunions like these rarely occur this side of heaven.

But yesterday, this one did.

5 thoughts on “KOH2RVA: Day 260

  1. Jim,

    Thank you for posting this story about the reunion of two members of “The Greatest Generation”. I am glad that the families of these two gentlemen were able to arrange the reunion and that you were there to witness it and to report about it to the rest of the church through your blog. I hope you and Christie have a nice Memorial Day.

  2. I’m thankful that I can personally remember a few heroes from WWI and many from WWII and succeeding wars. How grateful I am for the service and sacrifice of all veterans!

  3. Thanks for sharing this story. Several years ago, before she was married, my daughter and a group of her friends went to DC when the WWII memorial was dedicated. She came back with wonderful stories of how touching it was to talk to the vets that they met. To this day, she can always spot a veteran in a crowd, and point him out. She also loved visiting me at work at the local VA and made friends from some of the vets I had special relationships with. As a Vietnam era vet myself, who did not see combat either, all these holidays are are so special and stories like this one brings a lump in the throat, and thanks for all those who have done so much over the years to see that our freedoms are protected.

  4. I cannot thank you enough Jim for coming by last Sunday to meet my Dad & Preston. Dad has seen so many of your sermons and was so thrilled to meet you in person. He mentioned that he now knows why I go to a Baptist Church rather than Presbyterian. Others at the reunion said you looked like a movie star! I said you are a super star for Jesus-Christ (reminds me of the 1973 rock opera/movie). For me, it’s all about the Pastor, for you it was all about a girl :). Preston told me that he dreams regularly about his time in Burma with Dad there. When he wakes up it made him sad to think about not seeing his best friend again. He told me (tears in his eyes) that what you said in your prayer about how rare is on this occasion to meet in person instead of the other side really stuck with him and this was one of the best days of his life. I am so glad you were a part of helping it to be so. “Bringing Heaven to Earth”..
    Preston said that he has not been to church for many years, but because your pray affected him so much he is going to start going back. He wants me to send DVD recordings of your sermons like I do for Dad.
    I am now trying to arrange for my Dad & Preston to apply for the Vets Roll http://vetsroll.org/. This program is free with thousands of volunteers to provide safe transportation, food, lodging, medical attention and an enjoyable experience for World War II and Korean Era US Military Veterans to visit “ASAP” memorials and other sites in DC.
    As a side note, a couple of my best friends from my Peace Corps service (Solomon Islands 86-89) saw the article and said “we had better start planning a reunion soon instead of waiting until we are pushing 90!”

    Henry H. Kellam III

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