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Saturday, September 26, 1987 - St. Louis, Missouri
Dale Ritchey had flown down from Fairbanks, Alaska - Paul Somerville and his wife Mary Louise flew into St. Louis from Washington, West Virginia to attend the 386th Bomb Group Reunion. They also wished to visit the grave site of their pilot, co-pilot, and bombardier who were buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Their 555th Squadron Martin B-26 aircraft had been shot down on Group Mission Number 287 October 7, 1944 while bombing the railroad yards located at Hengelo, Holland.
Staff Sergeant Dale Ritchey and Sergeants, Paul Somerville and Carl Tuscano managed to bail out of their stricken bomber; but all three officers up front were killed when their plane crashed! I was the chairman of our Group reunion and up to my ears in myriad details when Paul asked me how they might visit the National Cemetery. I told him that I would drive them to the place after the Group business meeting Saturday morning.
Paul, Mary Louis, and Dale piled into my car and we drove the twelve miles or so to the cemetery. Upon arrival we were dismayed to learn the Graves Directory Service was closed on weekends. They were crestfallen, saying they would never have another such opportunity like this again!
Grave stones near the parking lot were dated 1983 and 1984, I suggested that we drive among the winding roads and check dates until we found the 1940s. A formidable task considering the thousands upon thousands of graves, and only an hour or so to do it! A bit later I saw a man visiting a grave site - I stopped to ask him if there was a special section devoted to multiple burials in a single grave. He indicated that there was such a location in the southeast portion, and we should look for flat stone markers typical of multiple grave sites.
We drove on and continued checking the burial dates on the tomb stones which were now showing dates in the 1950s. I drove around a curve in the road and spotted some flat markers among the vertical stones - we stopped and began our search. Mary Louise walked over a knoll, Dale looked north along the road, Paul headed south along the road, and I walked straight in from the roadway. At that point I called to Paul asking what names are we looking for? He replied, "Brundage, Marrin, and Roth." I continued walking about twenty-five feet and glanced at a vertical headstone - I could not believe my eyes; it read, Brundage, Marrin, and Roth. We were among many thousands of graves with no directory service to guide us; yet I found the very spot in less than twenty minutes since we entered the cemetery!
As I called to the others, I felt like I was being raised up by a helium filled balloon. They rushed over to where I was standing and began taking pictures for their photo albums. Then we all stood in silence for several minutes looking at the headstone. I came to attention and snapped off a salute to the fallen fliers. Immediately Dale burst into tears, and Paul became misty eyed. We walked back to the car and drove back to our reunion hotel. On the way they discussed the small miracle of finding the grave so quickly. Then I reminded them of a remark I had made when we started our search. I had said, "I didnt win the State Lottery last week, but maybe Ill be lucky here today!"
Chester P. Klier