Marines return home after nearly four decades

7 Oct 2005 | Gunnery Sgt. Kent Flora

The remains of 11 Marines were laid to rest Oct. 7 in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

The families the Marines, their long wait finally over, said a final goodbye to thier loved ones not forgotten after nearly four decades. Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for America’s honored heroes, was the rain-laden backdrop to the history-making event that saw hundreds of friends, service members and families pay tribute to the men who gave the ultimate sacrifice so many years before.

The ceremony marks the second time at Arlington National Cemetery this year that the remains of Marines have been returned home for proper burial. The first interment was in May when three Marines and a Navy Corpsman of A Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion were honored after returning from the Quang Tri Province of South Vietnam.

Even with the tears shed by the families and the fellow Marines who served with the men, there is relief that they all have returned home.

“I saw in the eyes of every family member, sorrow and relief,” said Gunnery Sgt Barry L. Baker, Marine Barracks Washington Funeral Director. “It puts an end to years of wondering.  It truly is a privilege to give these Marines their final military honors so they can rest in peace.”

Flags were presented to family members during the interment ceremony. Dennis King, brother to Cpl Gerald E. King; Bertram Cook, brother to Lance Cpl Joseph F. Cook; William Fritsch, father to Lance Cpl Thomas W. Fritsch; Janice Costello, sister to Lance Cpl Raymond T. Heyne; Marjorie Mitchell, mother to Lance Cpl Donald W. Mitchell; Willard Sargent, brother to Lance Cpl James Ray Sargent; Donald Blackman, father to Pfc. Thomas J. Blackman; Dean Czerwonka, brother to Pfc. Paul S. Czerwonka; Virginia Hempel, mother to Pfc. Barry L. Hempel; Margaret Lopez, sister to Pfc. Robert C. Lopez; and Harry McGonigle, father to Pfc. William D. McGonigle all accepted flags on behalf of their families. 

For one of the families, the link to the Marine Corps is ever-present. A Marine now serving returned the POW/MIA bracelet that had adorned his wrist for 15 years to the sister of one of the fallen Marines — Lance Cpl. James Sargent.

“I’m so glad Jimmy is finally home,” said Alice Fay Davis of Leckie, W.Va. “It’s time for him to rest and it gives our family relief knowing he is home.”

Not only does May 10, 1968 (the day of Sargent’s death) mean something to the Sargent family, but also to the Marine who wore the bracelet—Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

“Wearing that bracelet for Lance Cpl. Sargent has become a big part of who I am,” said the 15-year veteran.  “His name has been with me, halfway around the world and back, even to Iraq—twice. To be able to give that bracelet back to the family is a fulfillment of duty and honor—it’s a promise kept. It is what we do as Marines; it’s the definition of ‘Semper Fidelis.'”

Although Oliva admits his wrist feels "lighter" and that he will always remember Sargent, he couldn’t have been happier to return it to the sister of the man it honors.

“To give it to Fay and tell her ‘Jimmy’s home’, was the greatest honor I could have done for him and his family.”