Memorial Day is a time to reflect on those who gave all… for our freedom… and Let us never forget!
Edgar “Leroy” McKinley (1924-1945)
While both sides of my family lines of Bryan & McKinley have served… as well as my husband, and his family line of Insalaco… there is only “one” soldier remembered at Memorial Day… a soldier who lost his life in WWII. My mother’s only brother and my uncle… gave his life at the young age of 19…. so we may live in Freedom.
Memorial Day Memories
From a young girl, I’ve always bought the poppy flowers sold by Veterans around this time of year. My father often came home with one attached through a buttonhole… and would give to me. I’ve never walked by any Veteran selling them, without buying a couple and Thanking Them for their service; sadly today, you don’t see them sold often. A few years ago, while visiting my mom, we saw a Poppy Festival and I discovered much info on how the poppy flower came to be sold. Read about the Poppy Lady, Moina Belle Michael …. over HERE. She lived and is buried in my mother’s hometown of Monroe, Georgia.
Leroy was born on May 19, 1924, in Siloam, Greene Co., Ga., to parents, Edgar T. & Ola (Askew) McKinley. Born in the same log cabin of where my mother, Helen Rebecca (McKinley) Bryan was also born.
Leroy served in Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, serving in the Third Army. He was a replacement soldier, joining the 5th division after it was originally formed in Ft. Custer, Michigan. This 2nd Infantry Regiment was held in reserve after much brutal fighting of when the Sauer River was first crossed. He most likely crossed it, but not under fire as the 1st Infantry encountered.
In July of 1944 the 2nd Infantry Regiment, along with the 5th Infantry Division landed in Normandy, France… becoming part of General George Patton’s United States Third Army… capturing Rheims and seizing the city of Metz after a major battle at Fort Driant. I can only surmise that Leroy was there with his unit… as from letters written home, he mentioned being in France, as well as Luxembourg, and this would be the correct time frame.
The 2nd Infantry Regiment moved to the battle zone, in the area of Niederanven, Luxembourg when the Battle of the Bulge began. Niederanven is a small commune and town in Luxembourg, with a population of 1,476 in 2001… located north-east of Luxembourg City. I’m sure it was even smaller than this in 1945. The country of Luxembourg is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. I do have a photo of Leroy in Belgium… which is probably one of his last photos taken before leaving for Luxembourg.
Last photo of Leroy in Belgium before leaving for Luxembourg. This photo was never among my mother’s photos… it was sent to me by a cousin who found it in her mothers photo album.
On a letter dated February 6th, Leroy wrote… “I am ok here at this time. Almost all the snow is gone in Luxembourg, but it is still very cold. Tonight I am heading out to see a movie. Tell my sister I am thinking of her. His letters always ended the same – Your Loving Son Always, Leroy.”
It was on that Monday night, February 19, 1945, the day of his death, that my grandmother penned a last letter to her only son… unbeknownst to her. This letter never reached him, but instead, returned… breaking her heart in receiving it back. In that letter, she had written…”We received letters dated Jan. 3rd, 12th, 13th, and 14th,, and also a V-mail from you on February 17th, dated January 24th. I hate to hear that you haven’t received the fruitcake in the box I sent in November and the cigars I sent later in a tin box. Leroy, you said your wife wants you to come to Wisconsin to live, but I think it’s best to come home first when you get back to the States. I sure hope it won’t be long before you can come back because they might just talk you to do something you would be sorry of, and she might not sign the papers like she did last time. She said she was sorry she signed the papers. No, I haven’t heard anything from her, or either her sister.”
I can’t even imagine how hard it was Leroy’s commander, Lt. Mecklem, to write my grandparents a few months later – even harder for them to receive such a letter of condolence from their son’s unit commander. A few words from that letter: “There is very little that I can say about his death. He was killed by an enemy rifleman as we were cleaning out a woods – a few miles inside Germany. He died instantly and endured no suffering at all.” Sad to imagine how many letters he wrote during those long months of fighting.
It wasn’t long afterward, that the box containing the fruitcake was returned – and it must have been right before she was told of his death, my mother remembered her mother collapsing on the ground, saying “my son is dead.”
What was the turnaround of informing the parents or spouse of a loved one’s death? I’m sure it couldn’t have been in a timely fashion. I believe this telegram was delivered by the Army as my grandfather heard the news while in town on a Saturday afternoon. In being told that the Army was headed to his farm, he tried to have them held, so he could arrive first… but they were at his house before him… he found my grandmother standing in the yard crying – “my son is dead!“
It was a long two years before my grandparents were able to bring their sons body home to say goodbye and bury. My mother wasn’t able to attend her only brother’s funeral as she was married, living in Memphis, Tenn., and very pregnant… due at any time with her first child.
Leroy received the Purple Heart medal posthumously, and rests in my trunk along with the flag that was presented to my grandmother. The medal was originally sent to his ex-wife because his divorce papers were not received from the Army in time, but she later sent it to my grandmother…. saying how she should have it.
Leroy’s death has always tugged at my heart – he was my mother’s only sibling and his death left her an only child. There was so much unknown about Leroy before I began my search, but it was in reading those letters saved, I was able to piece together his thoughts and whereabouts. My mother always felt like her brother wasn’t close to her, but in reading the way he spoke about her in his letters… always asking about her, and sending his love thousands of miles away from home… still thinking of her and wishing her well. This story of his life and service has deeply touched my heart as I say a final “Thank You” for your service Uncle Leroy …you will never be forgotten! As Leroy did not live to carry on the McKinley name, his great-great niece was given his surname… so there is now a “McKinley” to carry on for him.
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