On Memorial Day 2013, we remember the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their lives in service to our country. Although a few of our fallen soldiers are the stuff of legends, most were simply ordinary Americans who served a cause, perhaps reluctantly, and had their lives cut short in the process. Some are remembered with flowers or flags on their graves. Others lie in military cemeteries in foreign lands. For some, the memories have faded away through the sands of time.
Today I am thinking about my uncle, Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr., who died in the Korean War before I was born. My uncle's memory has largely faded into obscurity, but it is important to remember him and others like him. This is my effort, however inadequate it may be, to do so.
Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr. was born in July 1924. My mother always referred to my uncle as "Don," and, although I'm not sure how you get "Don" from "Gilbert N.," I have no reason to doubt what my mother told me. That said, my mother never talked much about Uncle Don (or her family for that matter). Don did seem to be her favorite, and she always seemed to get a little misty eyed when his name was mentioned (and she was a very tough woman). That said, what I have learned about my uncle was mainly pieced together through records that are now available on line, but were of course not easily available when I was growing up.
My mother's family was poor. She was born in Mississippi, but grew up in a small town called Parma in southeastern Missouri. As happened in so many families from that generation, her brothers served in World War II, joining the Marines. My other uncle, Bill, enlisted in the Marines in January 1941. Don joined on December 9, 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor. Don would have been just 17. The brothers, were mechanically inclined. Bill was a mechanic for trucks and vehicles. Don ended up working on aircraft.
Don was a Technical Sergeant during World War II. His service records indicate he apparently did not see combat, and was stationed on the west coast. Don stayed in the service after World War II, and was stationed in various locations, ranging from California to Cherry Point, N.C. to Quantico, VA.
By the time of his death, Don was a Master Sergeant working on helicopters. Don must have been pretty good at what he did: Becoming a Master Sergeant in the Marines from humble beginnings in Parma, Missouri is no small feat. This is about all we have learned about Uncle Don's death, which is taken from the Korean War Veteran's Honor Roll:
Master Sergeant Caudle was a crew member of a HRS-2 Sikorsky Helicopter with Marine Helicopter Transportation Squadron 161, 1st Marine Air Wing. On March 25, 1953, during a test flight from Ascom, South Korea, his helicopter crashed and burned killing its crew of three. Master Sergeant Caudle was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Through most of my life, I never saw a photograph of Uncle Don. Recently, I found a grainy photograph, apparently his service photograph, posted on line. A link is here. I see a family resemblance to my mother and me.
In doing research for this post, I learned another fact that had been lost to our family through the sands of time. Don was married to a woman named Mary P. Caudle, who died in 2007 in Buffalo, New York. According to her obituary, Mary also worked in aircraft maintenance for the Marines in World War II. I never had any idea that Uncle Don was married, and my mother never spoke of it. Interestingly, my mother's name was also Mary.
Although the records indicate that Don's remains were recovered, I have no idea where he is buried. I have no idea where his service medals were sent, although assume they were sent to his wife Mary. So far as we are aware, Don and Mary had no children.
My uncle must have been a good guy. I wish I had known him. I wish I knew more about him. If anyone reading this happens to know anything more about Uncle Don or his wife Mary, please let me know. In the meantime, we will remember his service, and the service of so many like him who paid the ultimate price for their country.