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After 68 years, Korean War veteran finally laid to rest

Members of the U.S. Army 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and members of the Special Forces participate in the graveside service for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Dec. 5, 2016, in Arlington, Va. McEnroe was one of three Special Forces soldiers from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) who were killed in Jordan on Nov. 4. (Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery/U.S. Army)

Army Pvt. Winfred Lee Reynolds suffered one of the worst indignities of war.

It’s not just that Reynolds, a 20-year-old soldier from High Point, was killed on the battlefield during the Korean War. Many soldiers consider it an honor, a heroic denouement to die valiantly for their country if need be, and Reynolds — a combat medic who was gunned down while administering aid to a wounded comrade — likely was one of them.

For Reynolds, though, the indignity happened after his death. Because of ongoing fighting in the area, his remains were unable to be recovered. Not on the day he died, nor on the days that followed. It was unfortunate, of course, but not necessarily uncommon. “No man left behind” may sound noble, but it’s not always practical or even possible on the battlefield.

Still, that’s little consolation for a grieving family some 7,000 miles away, needing to see their loved one’s body — to lay him to rest — for peace, comfort and closure. In High Point, Reynolds’ family struggled with the news of his death, but also with the news that he wouldn’t be coming home.

“For many years when I was growing up, they would all talk and wonder what had happened to him and his remains,” recalls Steven Kennedy, Reynolds’ 69-year-old nephew, who was born and raised in High Point but now lives in Galax, Virginia. “They even wondered if he was still alive and being held captive over there, but they never heard anything.”

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So earlier this year, when a U.S. Defense Department agency announced that Reynolds’ remains had been found and identified through DNA technology, the news was bittersweet. Family members had long prayed Reynolds might one day come home, dead or alive, but when it finally happened, most of those relatives — except a few nieces and nephews who hardly knew him — had died.

Therein lies the indignity: For 68 years, Reynolds was denied the hero’s homecoming his sacrifice had earned him. And now that he was finally coming home — and was going to be laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors — it appeared there might not be any family members present for the burial.

Reynolds, who went by Dick, was born in 1930, the youngest of seven children born to John and Myrtle Reynolds. Growing up on Ward Street, he attended Cloverdale Elementary School and High Point Junior High, but he apparently decided school wasn’t for him.

At 14, Reynolds enlisted in the Army, but was sent home from Fort Bragg when his true age was discovered. He enlisted again in June 1948 — legitimately this time — telling family members it was what he wanted.

“Don’t worry,” he assured them. “I’ll be fine.”

Reynolds eventually found himself in South Korea when the United States entered the Korean War. He served with a medical unit of the 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, near the Hwachon Reservoir in South Korea.

On April 26, 1951, during a heated firefight, the young medic was killed by enemy machine-gun fire as he was tending to a wounded soldier. Heavy fighting where Reynolds died prevented American forces from recovering his remains, the Army reported.

Nearly three weeks passed before the news reached Reynolds’ family in High Point, and the news hit hard.

“When they notified my mother, that’s the only time I have ever heard her scream,” says Nancy Stinson, a niece of Reynolds who was born and raised here but now lives in Rockmart, Georgia. Her mother was Evelyn Lucille Reynolds Stinson, one of Dick’s four sisters.

“My mother was the next to the oldest, so she and her older sister had to help take care of the younger ones,” Stinson says. “She was almost like a mother to Dick.”

With every passing year after Reynolds’ death, it became increasingly likely that his remains would never be found. Family members began to die, going to their graves never having learned what had become of him. Hope flickered when new advances in DNA and forensic technology allowed for the identification of previously unidentifiable remains, but still there was no news about Reynolds.

It wasn’t until January of this year, some 68 years after Reynolds’ death, that his remains were finally recovered. A South Korean organization called the Ministry of National Defense for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification searched the area where he was killed and found possible remains. The remains were turned over to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and analysis of the DNA identified the remains as Reynolds.

Agency officials notified surviving family members. Steven Kennedy, Reynolds’ nephew in Galax, couldn’t help but think of his late mother, Ruth Reynolds Kennedy, and late grandmother, Myrtle Reynolds — the soldier’s sister and mother.

“Thank the Lord they finally found his remains — now the rest of us don’t have to wonder about him,” Kennedy remembers thinking. “I just wish God would let Mama and Granny and his other brothers and sisters know that they found him.”

Meanwhile, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, where Reynolds’ name is listed on the Courts of the Missing, a rosette has been placed by his name to indicate he has now been accounted for.

According to the DPAA, more than 7,000 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, but Reynolds is no longer one of them. He was finally coming home, where he would at last be given the dignified farewell he had earned.

The funeral at Arlington was scheduled for this past Thursday at 9 a.m. A short service would take place in the Post Chapel, followed by Reynolds’ burial alongside thousands of other veterans buried there.

The afternoon before the funeral, however, when Steven Kennedy was contacted by The High Point Enterprise, that was the first he and his wife Glenda had heard of the funeral plans.

“Nobody told us when it was,” Glenda said.

She assumed other relatives were in the dark, too.

“That’s a real shame,” she said. “That would be awful to lay him to rest and nobody from the family be there.”

Arlington is a five-hour drive from Galax. Would the couple — or could the couple — make that drive on such short notice to attend the funeral?

“No, I don’t think so,” Glenda said softly, the regret evident in her voice. “That’s a long way from here, and my husband works. He’s also recovering from neck cancer recently — he had surgery and 35 radiation treatments. I don’t see how we could go.”

Steven got on the phone and talked about his Uncle Dick, whom he never got to meet. He told how Dick, upon learning his sister was pregnant with Steven, jokingly told her, “I’m gonna make him so mean and rotten and spoiled that couldn’t nobody deal with him but me.”

He expressed his relief that his uncle’s remains had finally been found, identified and brought home. And he, too, expressed his regret about the difficulty of trying to attend the funeral.

Five minutes after hanging up, Glenda called back.

“We’ve changed our plans,” she said. “We’re going to Arlington.”

Steven’s employer, Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co., gave him time off to attend the funeral. The couple left for Arlington late that afternoon, spent the night in a motel, and awoke early Thursday morning to drive to the cemetery. Dick Reynolds may have been left behind on the battlefield, but when he finally came home, his family would be there for him.

As it turned out, one other relative — a niece, Linda Jones of Ararat, Virginia — also made it to the funeral. She, too, had driven roughly five hours to get there.

The service, with all the respectful pageantry of full military honors — and taking place in such a venerable setting — was a fitting tribute. In the Post Chapel, a chaplain spoke words of comfort and peace, and gratitude for Reynolds’ sacrifice. An organist played “Amazing Grace.”

Outside, an honor guard placed the veteran’s flag-draped casket on a funeral caisson, and the horse-drawn caisson carried Reynolds to his final resting place. The honor guard folded the flag and presented it to Jones, who is Reynolds’ oldest surviving relative. That was followed by the traditional 21-gun salute and the playing of taps. The chaplain spoke again, and it was over.

“They could not have honored him more beautifully than they did,” Glenda Kennedy said. “You see stuff like this on TV when presidents die, and this was similar to that. It was very honorable.”

Her husband agreed.

“This is closure,” he said. “My poor grandmother went to her grave worrying about what had happened to her son, but now we’ve got closure. My uncle has been brought back home and buried in the land that he fought for.”

Before leaving the cemetery, Steven walked over to his uncle’s casket, now bared of the flag, and touched it gently with his left hand.

“Goodbye, Uncle Dick,” he said softly. “Now I can be at peace knowing you are home.”

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© 2019 The High Point Enterprise