My Great Aunt Bess had a son who bravely fought in WWII. James Lynn Barnes served in the U.S. Army and lost his life June 6, 1944, at Normandy. He was 33.
I was very young when I heard the stories of James, and I wish I’d paid more attention to my Gran. I know the family considered him a hero, but in truth, all our veterans are heroes. James was well loved, as was my Aunt Bess. I do have fond memories of her. She was everything you can think of when you imagine goodness in a person. My sister and I both loved her very much.
Aunt Bess was my Gran’s sister on my mother’s side. When I was born, my mother honored both Aunt Bess and James’ memory by giving me his middle name. When I had my son I passed on this tradition, and I hope he will do the same someday.
Growing up, I remember I always saw the framed Purple Heart and a Distinguished Air Medal he received, with the certificates, proudly displayed above Aunt Bess’ chair. As a child, this made me even more proud to be named after this brave soldier I never knew. When Aunt Bess passed away, these awards went to my Gran. At her death, they went to my mother, and then to me.
In the early 2000’s, my now-ex-husband and I were trying to sell our home. I was in an abusive marriage and was at the beginning phases of finally standing up to him, so things were … not easy at home. But that’s another post. Our realtor advised us to make the house neutral. He recommended these go in storage. I was horrified. Although, perhaps he just didn’t want anything to happen to them as the house was shown to various people. Regardless, putting them in storage was really not something I wanted to do, but I told my ex to do it, along with the rest of the things, as I was working and he was at home all day.
When things finally fell apart between us in 2006 and the divorce was final, I went to clear my things from storage. The storage unit had been in his name the entire time. At some point he cleared the storage unit and closed the account. I lost everything in the unit, most likely before the divorce was final. But I can’t contact him because he doesn’t know where I am and I want to keep it that way.
It broke my heart. I’d lost this family treasure. After beating myself up over it for a couple of years, I finally gave up and accepted the fact that these were gone. All we had left were old family pictures.
Yesterday was Veterans Day; a day we honor those who have bravely served our country, defended our freedom, and many who have died in that service. I was listening to a tribute to our veterans on the radio and once again it got me thinking about my 2nd cousin, James. If I couldn’t have these honors he received, surely there must be some information online about what he did; something I didn’t listen to when my Gran told me as a child. I pulled up Google to see what I could find.
Miracles do happen.
I found a link to a news story from Memorial Day of this year. A VFW post in the area I used to live in is looking for the family of this man. Someone found these honors in the attic of the house I lived in 7 years ago. That man never took them to storage. Why he put them in the attic and never told me is beyond me.
The two smaller frames are still missing, but at least I’ve recovered the main frame with the medals. I’m still weepy with relief and gratitude. Now I need to wait until my son’s winter break comes up so he can travel with me to pick these up. We get to meet the people who’ve been taking care of his honors for more than two years, and honoring his memory while looking for his home.
For privacy reasons, I’m going to withhold the VFW location at this time. After we do the handoff I will formally thank them and recognize the VFW Post properly.