It’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.