One July Morning

His picture hung in my grandparents house, along with all of the other pictures of the kids.

I never met him, neither did any of the grandkids.

But that picture, always there. In every family portrait, you can see it in the background.

It wasn’t until years later that my brother pointed it out to me.

Every picture, there he is.

One July morning, back in 1950, my uncle, Kenneth G. Eller, along with 30 Guardsmen , were wrapping up a two week training exercise in Myrtle Beach.  All were in high school.  And they were coming home to finish out the summer before school began.

They were ready to take on life.

They never made it home.

From the  NASHVILLE BANNER, July 24, 1950:

The 30 young men, many still in their teens, died when the Air Force reserve C-46 transport plane in which they were to have been brought home after two weeks of summer maneuvers, plunged to earth, exploded and burned in a dense pine thicket 10 miles west of Myrtle Beach, seven minutes after take-off.”

photo (2)

(Headline as it appeared in the Nashville Banner that day.)

He was 18.

He was survived by his mom and dad, 2 brothers and one sister.

My mom never talked about him much growing up.

I came to find out later, he was her best friend.  They were closest in age.  Mom was 12 when he died.  The other two brothers were already in their 20’s and in the military too.

My grandfather was the same age I am now when he found out his youngest son was gone.

I cannot begin to imagine.

I remember mom saying, when the body came back, my grandmother asked the military if the casket could be placed in the living room, the night before the burial.

“I want him to spend one more night at home, before I say goodbye.”

The casket, along with 2 soldiers who stood at attention all night long, was at the house, per my grandmother’s wishes.

That next day, from all reports, thousands lined the streets of what is now Hillsboro Village to pay respects to him.

Mom said Nana and Papa would not talk about Kenneth, nor what happened, for years.

My mom wouldn’t either.  Except towards the end of her life.

She told me she always wanted to go to Myrtle Beach but couldn’t bring herself to do it.  She never mentioned going there, until the end.

In July of 2011, just two weeks after she passed, I took my daughter to Myrtle Beach.

In the backseat, my mom’s ashes.

We spread her ashes off the pier, into the Atlantic Ocean on an absolutely beautiful night.

Perhaps the same kind of night my uncle enjoyed before he would leave this place.

He is buried in Woodlawn cemetery, right next to my mom.

And next to them,  my grandparents.

His marker is worn and weary, it has been there 63 years.

Now, I will not pretend that his dying affected me in any way.  I never met him, obviously, but as I have gotten older, I have a deep appreciation for him and others who have sacrificed so much.

There is a plaque in War Memorial Plaza in downtown Nashville.

It reads, “In Honored Memory of The Tennessee Air National Guardsmen Who Lost Their Lives July 23, 1950, In The Service Of Their Country.”

7 names down, it says, ‘Kenneth G. Eller.’

I read somewhere that we die twice.

Once, when we physically die.

Second, when our stories are stopped being told.

I pray for our country, that those who have laid down their lives, their stories, never get stopped being told.

@BIGJOEONTHEGO

28 Comments

  1. Sloan Criswell November 11, 2013 5:30 pm  Reply

    I read this with years in my eyes. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:50 pm  Reply

      Thank you!!

  2. Joyce Starkey November 11, 2013 5:42 pm  Reply

    Amen Joe.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 4:44 pm  Reply

      Thank you!!

  3. Murdock November 11, 2013 7:32 pm  Reply

    Great powerful story

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:50 pm  Reply

      Thank you sir!!

  4. Bruce Affleck November 11, 2013 9:10 pm  Reply

    Good stuff, BJ; a nice reflection of family, loss, love and respect.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:40 pm  Reply

      Thank you!!

  5. papadoc November 11, 2013 9:11 pm  Reply

    Wonderful tribute! Thanks…..

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:40 pm  Reply

      Thank you sir!!

  6. Sandra Dixon Loggins November 11, 2013 9:51 pm  Reply

    Joe, This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it. Never stop telling his story. Let your children know about him so they can help always keep him, “alive.” Your friend, Sandra

  7. Tammy November 11, 2013 11:48 pm  Reply

    What a fantastically beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:39 pm  Reply

      Thank you!!

  8. Joe Dubin November 12, 2013 12:49 am  Reply

    Thank you both for taking time to read and comment on it.

  9. Jenny November 12, 2013 1:51 am  Reply

    The earnestness you express here… Lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:36 pm  Reply

      Thank you Ms. Jenny…..I appreciate that very much.

  10. Keith November 12, 2013 3:08 am  Reply

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:35 pm  Reply

      Thank you Keith!

  11. Kelly November 13, 2013 3:06 am  Reply

    Joe thank you for sharing. Meant a lot to be able to read this to my family. Was able to share some family history with the kids. Thank you so much. Had tears while reading.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:36 pm  Reply

      Thank you!!

  12. Kelly November 13, 2013 3:11 am  Reply

    Joe thank you so much for sharing. I was able to read this to my family and share our family history with my kids. Very moving had tears while reading to kids. Thank you again.

  13. James November 13, 2013 11:16 am  Reply

    Powerful stuff Joe. Great writing.

    • Joe Dubin November 14, 2013 3:35 pm  Reply

      Hey thank you so much!

  14. Shirley Chessor November 14, 2013 9:08 pm  Reply

    Joe, you are such a good, kind gentleman. I love you so much for writing this marvelous info on my sweet cousin. Even though I am sitting here now with tears in my eyes, I loved the item. It brings back so many memories to me of the terrible week we spent before the casket and remains were delivered to Ashwood. I vividly remember the service man delivering his billfold to Ted, with scorched places on the side. I remember the lonesome Taps at Woodlawn. I love you Joe for this comment.

  15. Mark LaLumondier December 11, 2013 9:35 pm  Reply

    Great story, thanks for sharing.

  16. Toni November 11, 2014 12:30 pm  Reply

    What a beautiful testament Joe.

  17. Donna Brauer November 11, 2014 1:43 pm  Reply

    Thank you for telling this story–very touching

    • Joe Dubin November 13, 2014 11:07 pm  Reply

      Thank you!

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