Family Stories: Remembering Memorial Day

They say on Memorial Day to rememember “one event” and “one person”… and that one person always remembered, is my uncle… Edgar “Leroy” McKinley… my mother’s only brother… and only sibling.

Edgar “Leroy” McKinley

While so many think of Memorial Day as a day for parades, picnics and enjoying hot dogs and hamburgers… it’s more than that, and we should all remember and teach our kids that we have this day because of many who gave their life, like my uncle. They gave their young lives so we can live free in America and continue to wave our flag of red, white and blue. Enjoy your parade and food, but never forget why we are able to enjoy this day… because so many didn’t come home to live their lives. They only live their lives through us… in rememberance of them. Enjoy your day today… but never forget those that gave…

My mother always told stories of her brother Leroy through the years. He was her best friend, and often only playmate in growing up on the farm. She looked up to him through the years… and on that day he left for the Army, she remembered him waving to her, saying “so long” as he left for the train. His father took him to the train on that sad day, while she remained home with her mother… wondering why they didn’t all go, but likely because her mother just couldn’t bring herself to see him leave on the train.

After several weeks at boot camp at Ft. PcPherson in Atlanta in 1943, he returned home for a short visit before heading to Texas… as he was slated to head overseas… war in Germany was raging. What was going through his mind… probably the no. 1 was… will I ever return home to see my parents and sister and friends again?

From several records, and with the help of other genealogists I pinpointed Leroy’s actual unit to be Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, serving in the Third Army. He was a replacement soldier who joined the 5th division after it was originally formed in Ft. Custer, Michigan; more than 300,000 troops trained there. This 2nd Infantry Regiment was in reserve after much brutal fighting when the Sauer River was first crossed. He most likely crossed it, but not under fire as the 1st Infantry did.

Leroy wrote home as often as time allowed… and those letters were coveted by my grandmother. She read his letters over and over, often keeping them in the pocket of her dress. She was very possessive of them, not allowing anyone to hold them. She would read them to my mother and grandfather, but grandmama never let them out of her site.

It was in July of 1944, when the 2nd Infantry Regiment, along with the 5th Infantry Division landed in Normandy, France. They then became 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 guess that Leroy was possibly there with his unit. From letters written home, he mentioned being in France, as well as Luxembourg, and this would be the correct time frame. It was in the battle of capturing Metz, when he was was fired on by a lone sniper hiding in the dense woods outside the village; a purple heart was given to his parents.

Ironically on a Monday night, February 19, 1945, the day of his death, my grandmother penned her last letter to her only son. This letter never reached him, but instead, returned to her and I know it broke her heart in receiving it back. In that letter, she wrote…”We received letters dated Jan. 3rd, 12th, 13th, and 14th,. I also had 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. When that fruitcake tin was finally returned back to her in the mail… she hadn’t yet heard of his death, but in her heart she knew… she knew her only son was gone.

PFC Leroy McKinley died Feb. 19, 1945…

Thank You Uncle Leroy… I’ll never forget you as my middle name of Lee was given to me in your honor, as I also gave to my daughter and in continuing the memory, she named her daughter McKinley Lee… ensuring your name is never forgotten!

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