The boys who never came home
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 6, 2011 1:50 AM
Delbert Scott talks about the sense of loss he has felt since losing his brother, Marcus, during World War II.
Evelyn Westbrook shows the Purple Heart awarded to her brother, David Hill, for dying in combat during World War II.
Evelyn Westbrook takes a deep breath and runs her fingers across the cover of an undersized Bible that dates back more than 70 years.
She thumbs through its pages until she reaches the passage her brother, David, marked before he fell on a battlefield in Belgium.
It's Luke's narrative of the birth of Christ.
"He had hoped to get home for Easter, but never made it," Evelyn said, closing the book before placing it back among her brother's Purple Heart and a condolence letter signed by FDR that was sent to the young man's family shortly after his death. "You know, in war, there is always this fear that the boys are going and some of them aren't coming home. But my family was very Christian and just trusted that the Lord would do whatever was best."
David Hill is only one of dozens of names recently immortalized within a memorial constructed to ensure Wayne County never forgets the sons it sacrificed on battlefields from Europe to Vietnam.
But when his sister choked up just talking about the tune blared by a lone bugler at the end of a funeral held more than a half-century ago, it seemed clear that some still live, every day, with a void no tribute -- no matter how powerful -- could fill.
"From the day of that memorial service until now, if I ever hear taps, it's just so hard." Evelyn said, her eyes filling with tears. "I've wondered so many times who he would have been -- what he would have done."
They are more than just names -- the men whose legacies will be honored on Veterans Day before forever being preserved on a lot at the corner of Walnut and William streets.
To those they left behind, the county's war dead will remain dedicated husbands, beloved brothers, cherished sons and fierce friends ... always.
Delbert Scott remembers when his older brother, Marcus, flagged down a train passing through Belfast.
"He went along the track and took out his handkerchief," he said. "That's the last time he saw home."
But that moment is not the final memory Delbert has of a young man he will forever see as "a typical teenage boy."
It was late December 1942 -- a few days before Christmas -- and Marcus was preparing to join the war effort mounting across the world.
"He said, 'Daddy, if you could come (see me), I would appreciate it. I'm shipping out.' So Daddy and me went down to Jackson, Mississippi and spent Christmas eve with him," Delbert said. "I was so young that I didn't realize why that hurt Daddy so bad."
But as he grew older, memories formed years earlier revealed to the boy just why his father was so distraught when faced with the reality that his son was joining the fight.
At the time of his enlistment, Marcus was too young to sign up for the service -- to live his boyhood dream -- without parental consent.
"We lived in a four-room house and Daddy, he would have to come through our bedroom to get to the kitchen," Delbert said. "Well, Marcus wanted to join the Army Air Corps so bad that he already had the paperwork and two or three different times, he would jump out of bed when he heard Daddy coming through and had this fountain pen laying up on the dresser and he'd say, 'Daddy, are you going to sign my enlistment papers?' Daddy would say, 'No. Not today.'
"Well, finally, one morning, Daddy come in the room and Marcus jumped up. He said, 'Daddy, you gonna sign the papers today?' Daddy said, 'Where's the pen?' When he got through signing the paper, he said, 'Son, I feel like I've just signed your death warrant.' Daddy took that to his grave."
Charles Marcus Scott was killed June 27, 1943 -- after logging more than 50 combat missions -- during a training flight designed to get replacements ready for battle.
Delbert, who was only 7 years old at the time, can still see a taxi pull up to his home.
"I was on the other side of the house in the garden picking butter beans when I saw that taxi drive up. Well, the only cars that came up that road was the mailman," he said. "So when I saw that taxi turn in, I left my butter bean bucket around the house and the guy came up. He looked at Mama and said, 'Well, I hate to do this, but I think I got bad news for you.' ... It was very devastating to Daddy."
Roy Thompson only has one memory of his brother.
He was only 6 years old when Ralph was killed in Korea.
So he clings to the moment a little boy tried to impress his role model by reading a book far too advanced for a toddler.
"It was just a little old 'Dick and Jane' or something like that," Roy said. "Right now, that's the only thing I can remember. I just know that he was in the service -- that he had to go off to war."
But as the years passed, he wondered if he was growing into the kind of young man Ralph was before his death -- if they had the same personality; if their faces looked the same.
"I probably look like him," Roy said. "Guess I'll never know."
And instead of reaching back to moments they spent together for answers to those questions, he, instead, has been forced to rely on stories passed along from women his brother once dated and friends he made before he left for war.
"And today, I don't guess there are too many people that would even remember him," Roy said. "I mean, he was born in 1930."
Ralph fell in Korea on Sept. 12, 1950.
But according to his family, the military never explained just how the young man died.
"All I've heard is that he was only across the water for 18 days when he was killed," Roy said. "The letter, it didn't say how.
"But I know this: he will never be forgotten."
A little girl eludes her brothers before, upon assuming the role of "Indian princess" she allows them to bind her hands and feet.
"We were playing cowboys and Indians and they ... tied me to the garage door," Evelyn said. "I, of course, was happy to be the Indian princess. Dumb me.
"So they would go on about their playing and every five or 10 minutes they would come around and do that ... Indian call. I thought I was still in the game, but what was really happening is they were trying to get rid of me."
The woman laughs.
"David and my older brother were my childhood playmates," she said. "We were very close."
So when his body was finally returned to Goldsboro and laid to rest at Willowdale Cemetery, it was devastating to the girl who had, years earlier, walked alongside him so many times.
"When his remains came back home, two servicemen came with them. They stood by that body until the funeral was over. They never left our house -- stayed there night and day," Evelyn said. "There were, of course, mixed emotions. It was only natural to be sorrowful. But you were also proud."
So when the Wayne County Veterans Memorial is dedicated Friday, a loving sister will be among the faces in the crowd.
"I think it's wonderful. I sure do," Evelyn said. "I want to honor him."
And Delbert, too, will attend the ceremony -- if for no other reason than to gain a little more closure.
"I'm constantly reliving it," he said. "If he was living, he would have eight years on me."
Roy appreciates the effort of the Wayne County Community Memorial Association Trustees -- the group that has worked, since the former community building burned, to preserve the "hallowed grounds" it once stood upon.
"I think it's real nice," he said. "Maybe one day, people will go up to his name and say, 'Hey, that person might be kin to me.'"
But for some, like Delbert's younger brother, Cecil, who was so young that he has no memories of Marcus, no monument could ever replace the memories he was robbed of on foreign soil.
"I never saw him," Cecil said. "And I'm just sorry he never got to see me."