One of my older cousins, John Henry, was stationed at Bitburg Air Base in Germany while I was stationed at Hahn Air Base, about an hour and a half from Bitburg. Not long after I arrived at Hahn in the autumn of 1959, John Henry called me early one Saturday and said he and his family were on their way to Hahn to take me out to lunch. They showed up at around 11 a.m. in their 1951 Mercedes and took me to a great German restaurant for a scrumptious meal and some good conversation.
I had only seen John Henry a few times before at family reunions, funerals and other gatherings. He was 20 or so years older than I, so I really didn’t know him very well at the time. He had married a woman named Gussie who had two children from a previous marriage. They made me feel like a part of the family during my 3-year tour of duty.
One thing John Henry had always wanted to do was to look up the grave in France of our cousin Morley Joe, who had died as an airman during World War II. John Henry and Morley Joe were about the same age and had been close as kids and had enlisted together. We discussed their friendship on that first luncheon, over brats, great potato salad and hot mustard.
“Danny,” he said, “no one in our family as far as I know has ever been to Morley Joe’s grave. Would you like to go help me find it? It is near Nancy, France.”
“Of course,” I replied, even though I didn’t remember Morley Joe. I was just a baby when he died.
So we started laying plans, map in hand, for a camping venture, one in which John Henry, his step-son, about seven and I would camp along a stream near Nancy, France and go searching all day for a couple of days. It was a big military cemetery. We continued to plan intermittently for our camping trip and quest for the grave site throughout the winter. Both John Henry and I took a few days leave in the spring. We packed a couple of tents, some sleeping bags and other necessities, threw them into the 1951 Mercedes and left on our venture.
We found a wonderful camping place beside the swift stream and set up camp. Immediately, John Henry discovered some trout in the stream. He improvised fishing equipment from string and a safety pin and caught three or four nice ones on grasshoppers. He fried them and we had a great supper there in the chilly French countryside. The sleeping bag felt good that night.
We were up early the next morning and started our search. Just before noon, in the austere maze of symmetrical markers, Stars of David and crosses, John Henry found the site. I know now, but I didn’t realize then, that John Henry was hiding his emotions behind his camera. He took photograph after photograph and later sent them to Aunt Sis, Morley Joe’s mother. Aunt Sis treasured those photographs, as any mother would. I treasure the memory, especially since John Henry’s recent demise. He was a mighty good cousin.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.