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Eanes speaks of native sons at annual service
Crowds gathered Sunday for the 66th annual Memorial Service at Roselawn Burial Park. Col. Greg Eanes spoke about several area natives who died in the line of duty. The service was dedicated to Robert E. Wells Jr., an Army sergeant who died on Oct. 25, 2012, and Harry Napper Jr., an Army sergeant major who was one of the founders and 11-year commander of American Legion Homer Dillard Post 78. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Retired Air Force Col. Greg Eanes told real stories on Sunday of local servicemen’s sacrifices to underscore the importance of Memorial Day.
More than 563 men from the Henry County-Martinsville area have been killed in action, died of wounds or died in wartime service, Eanes said, quoting the Library of Virginia’s database of Virginia’s war dead.
“It is important that we remember those who died and, as importantly, why they died,” he added at the 66th annual Memorial Service at Roselawn Burial Park. “Our war dead are not mere numbers or sets of statistics. They are not just names on a wall. They were living, breathing men and women; sons and daughters; brothers and sisters; husbands and wives; fathers and mothers. They had families; they had personal stories of a journey through lives cut short because of war.”
Those “lives cut short” included:
• Brothers George Edmond and Jeb Stuart Pannill of Martinsville, who enlisted in the Army during World War I. Both became privates first class in Company K of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
“For three days starting on July 18, 1918, they participated in the Second Battle of the Marne ... . George was killed in action on the first day of the operation; Jeb Stuart Pannill was severely wounded and died in a military hospital of those wounds on Aug. 4,” Eanes said. They died 17 days apart.
• Pvt. Camden Ross Bryant of Henry County, who was a barber at the headquarters company of the Army Air Corps’ 34th Pursuit Squadron in the early days of World War II, Eanes said. Bryant was in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked, and men of the Air Corps were reorganized as the 2nd Provision Infantry Regiment or Air Corps Infantry.
“Camden Ross Bryant the barber was now carrying a rifle defending Bataan,” Eanes said.
Bryant became a prisoner of war and survived the Bataan death march. He and 1,800 other prisoners were packed aboard a Japanese ship en route to Japan to work as slave labor when an American submarine fired a torpedo at the ship, cutting it in two. Only nine of the American prisoners survived the sinking; Bryant was not among them, Eanes said.
• Seaman 1st Class James William Correll Jr. of Henry County, who was a Reservist in the Naval Armed Guard. In April 1944, he was aboard the SS Paul Hamilton, which carried 7,000 tons of explosives and ground personnel bound for Italy, when it was struck by a German torpedo.
“In an explosion that one eyewitness said lasted 6 to 7 seconds, the entire ship, with 580 men, vanished. James William Correll Jr. was only 19 years old,” Eanes said.
• Pfc. Aubrey N. Oakes of Martinsville, who was among the 13 local men killed in the Korean War. He died on March 31, 1953, during a Chinese Communist Army attack on a 5th Marine Combat Outpost named Vegas. He was 22 years old, Eanes said.
• Linwood Dwight Martin of Bassett, who was killed in action on March 22, 1968, in Vietnam. He was among at least 26 local men who died in that war, Eanes said.
“A Green Beret, Martin was leading a long-range reconnaissance team in enemy territory when they were attacked,” Eanes said. “Martin led a one-man charge into withering enemy fire to buy time for his team to escape.”
He was recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, Eanes said. He added that Martin was 30 years old when he died and left a wife and three young children.
• Lewis Randolph Lovell Jr. of Martinsville, who enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1966 and volunteered for Vietnam. After a short mission there, he returned for a one-year tour on Dec. 20, 1967, serving in Company C, 720th Military Police Battalion. It was the first MP unit in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces to perform a three-year infantry counterinsurgency mission that involved ambush and reconnaissance missions, Eanes said.
In February 1968, he wrote to his family during the Tet Offensive that he was part of a “‘killer squad ... Under normal conditions we have to make recon patrols and ambush patrols. ... If something in our area of responsibility is under attack, one or all four squads go out to find out exactly what is going on and counterattack,’” Eanes read from Lovell’s letter.
He described several operations, including one outside Saigon. “‘When we got there the V.C. (Viet Cong) had everything in the village on fire, even people were burning in the streets ... I guess all this sounds like some kind of war story but believe me, it is the truth... (If the press) told the truth about this place, every American troop here would be home in a few weeks,’” he wrote, according to Eanes.
On June 6, Lovell was killed in action when he was on a motorized Jeep patrol and the vehicle ran over a Viet Cong land mine. He was 21 years old and is buried in Roselawn Cemetery, Eanes said.
Lovell had been especially close to his father and other members of his family, Eanes said. His sister Carol was at Sunday’s program, and Eanes noted they, and all families who have lost loved ones, still grieve.
• DeMarkus Brown of Martinsville, a lance corporal with Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, who was among at least eight local men who have died since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, Eanes said.
Brown was part of Operation Phantom Fury designed to liberate the people of Iraq and rid Fallujah of terrorists, Eanes said. He died on Nov. 19, 2004, when he and fellow Marines were ambushed by enemy forces. He was 22 years old.
“The things that cause wars are not necessarily the things that cause men to fight and to die,” Eanes said in recounting these men’s stories.
Most men and women fight to stay alive and keep their buddies alive, he said. They also fight for their families, their homes, their communities, “in short, our country,” as well as the principals in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he added.
“Let us not forget that and let us never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Eanes said.
Eanes lives in Penhook.
Sunday’s ceremony was dedicated to Robert E. Wells Jr., an Army sergeant who died on Oct. 25, 2012, and Harry Napper Jr., an Army sergeant major who was one of the founders and 11-year commander of American Legion Homer Dillard Post 78. Plaques in their honor were given to both men’s families.
The program also included music by the U.S. Army National Guard 29th Infantry Band, the POW/MIA tribute, laying of a wreath and a three-volley salute by the Honor Guard.
Sponsors of the event were AMVETS Post 35, DAV Chapter 52, Homer Dillard post 78, Marine Corps League, National Armed Forces Fellowship, Pannill Post 42, VFW Posts 2820, 4637 and 10840, and Roselawn Chapel Funeral Home and Burial Park.