A few days back, I visited the grave of my parents. I try to do that often. On my way from the cemetery, I took a different route than usual, and this stone caught my eye. “In Memory Of” generally means that the remains are not with the stone. This is what I’ve learned.
First, the stone is wrong. PFC Raymond K. Pence was, in fact, a member of the 515th Coastal Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft). They fought along-side the 200th, from Bataan to Corregidor, and both earned four Presidential Unit Citations for their bravery. And, pretty much to a man, they were all captured by the Japanese. A memorial to these two units stands at their home in New Mexico.
The remains were impossible to positively identify after the liberation of the Philippines. Oh, they tried, but the graves were jumbled, the shallow bedrock and rainy seasons making orderly burial impossible despite the best efforts of your weakened and sick brothers-in-arms. Just piles of bones, interred and disinterred a couple of times. Most remain unidentified to this day.
But they lay in honor at the American Cemetery near Manila. And there, your name is engraved on the Wall of the Missing.
How did you die, Raymond? Was it starvation in that camp in Cabanatuan? Was it the malaria that most of your comrades contracted in your strategic withdrawal across Luzon? Was it the dysentery that ravaged the American ranks? Or were you executed, one of those unfortunates chosen at random by your captors, ten to be shot for every one man who attempted to gain his freedom?
And did you know that your mother, Annella, also died in 1942, or were both of you granted the mercy of not knowing the fate of the other? I can tell you now, because the story is engraved in rock in this little corner of Ohio.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are not forgotten, and I pray that our Lord has mercy on you, and that ringing in your immortal ears are those words we all long to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.
Rest in Peace, and thank you.