I was working on a quilt challenge yesterday that involved incorporating text into a visual design. I had the design part down, but I was struggling with what words to use. As usual, my mind wandered over to my family & I thought about listing all the people whom I love. This path led me to thinking about my grandpa, Leo Roach. He’s alive & well, mind you! But he lost two brothers during World War II & that’s about all I knew of my family members who had died fighting for our country. So, in an effort to procrastinate on my quilt design work, I decided to google my grandpa’s name- What followed was an interesting journey that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.
A few pages into the Google results was a small PDF link. It had his name and some gobbledygook listed after it in the description, so I clicked on it. The link turned out to be a fully scanned copy of the Class of 1950 Chilocco Indian School yearbook preserved by the National Archives. Now, a few years ago, purely by chance, I found another website that had a partial scan of the Class of 1953 yearbook, which was my grandpa and grandma’s Senior year. I always thought, “What are the chances of the yearbook from the exact year of my grandparents’ graduation would be online? & no other years??” Random. But I digress. This was a full copy and detailed my grandpa’s Junior year. Oh, this yearbook was even more fun than the 1953 version!
I was giggling out loud looking at all his photos. Did he really have a one-armed tennis coach named Mr. Bearskin?? heehee
“But, Rebecca,” you may ask, “Why was he a Junior in 1950 and a Senior in 1953?” The answer is simple- The Korean War happened. He lied about being old enough to enlist and joined the Army along with his buddies. This information was just about all I knew about his time overseas, except for a brief story he told me when I was younger. I remember we brought home a DVD of Saving Private Ryan for him to watch, thinking that he would enjoy it since John Wayne movies were in heavy rotation in the DVD player. But my grandpa watched it in stone silence. At the end, we asked him, “Well, did you like it?” and he replied, “I don’t know if ‘like’ is the correct term.” He then told the account of a battle in Korea where he stood helplessly as his buddy right next to him was blown to pieces. And then he walked away to his room and closed the door. It was the first time that I realized how many memories he had wrapped up inside of him, & it made me weep.
Back to the yearbook in my browser! I hoped that if they had this particular yearbook, then they might have other yearbooks, as well. I changed the name in the address from 1950.pdf to 1951.pdf and the next one started loading up for viewing. On one of the first pages was a dedication to the students from Chilocco who went off to war and the photo at the top of this post accompanied it. A few pages later was a photo of them getting on a train to Camp Polk, Louisiana and I strained my eyes to see if I could find my grandpa.
This was the first time that I knew his exact Army company & I began to research what happened to them. They traveled to Hokkaido, Japan from New Orleans shortly after my grandpa turned 18 years old in March 1951. On December 28th, 1951, they then traveled to Inchon and the battlefields of war. My mind started to drift to my grandpa’s story about his friend’s death and I started looking for those students who didn’t make it home. I found out that two of them had died on January 24th, 1952. Their names were Joe Green and Sequoyah Thompson & I went back to the 1950 yearbook to see if I could find a visual connection between them & my grandpa. I didn’t have to look far. If you scroll up in this post, you’ll find Joe Green on the bottom row of that Tennis Team photo. Sequoyah Thompson is standing on the opposite end of my grandpa’s row in the Student Council photo and he was only a Sophomore. For once, I had faces to match up with the stories. They were just boys. Once they got on that train to Camp Polk, they didn’t know their feet would never again walk across that Oklahoma red clay.
After I found their names, I did a google search on them, too. For Joe, I found out a few more biographical details. But for Sequoyah, I found something very interesting. In 2007, a Korean War veteran had posted in a forum searching for the relatives of Sequoyah. The Army Central ID lab had recovered remains from Korea & they needed a family member to provide a sample of mDNA to verify the match. I immediately went to the Central ID Lab website to look and see if he was still on the Urgent list. He was not. However, I’m not sure if they did find a family member to give a sample, or if they simply removed him from the public list. If that’s the case, then his remains might still be in a box in Hawaii.
Well, by the time I had researched all this, it was about 2:00 in the morning and I straggled into bed. Today, Memorial Day, I called up my Aunt and told her about what I had found online. (My grandpa has terrible hearing & my voice over the phone is ESPECIALLY one of the sounds he can’t hear!) I told her that I remembered the story about his friend dying in Korea and she said, “If I remember correctly, it was his cousin that died- not just a friend.” I asked her to pass on what I found and chatted for a while about our Memorial Day plans. Not long after we hung up, I got a text message from her that said my grandpa was very choked up. Sequoyah Thompson was indeed his cousin who died while standing right next to him. But he didn’t think there would be any pieces of him left to find by the Army ID lab. I replied that they had to have something that tied the remains to him- a dogtag, a piece of uniform- otherwise, they wouldn’t have put him on the Urgent List. So, this has all put a new mystery in my head- Where is Sequoyah now? That’s a quest for another day, however. Today is for remembering all the soldiers who fought and died for our country. For Joe Green and Sequoyah Thompson and all the young men and women who sacrificed everything. You are not forgotten.