People traveled from all over to honor the memory of Keith Tipsword at his funeral service Tuesday, which began in Effingham and ended at the Moccasin Cemetery.
Despite the frigid and rainy weather, friends, family, local residents and military personnel came together to take part in honoring the life and military service of Tipsword, decades after he was declared missing in action following the Pearl Harbor attack.
Rolling Thunder and Patriot Guard member Marlene Van Matre drove her motorcycle to Effingham from her home in Mahomet, Illinois.
The two groups met during an Honor Flight to Washington DC and have been collaborating ever since. The groups work together to honor veterans and first responders at funerals and other ceremonies.
Matre said it was important for her to make the trip because it’s not every day that a Pearl Harbor veteran is identified and brought home after decades of uncertainty.
“This family has waited 80 years for this man to come home,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of repatriation in the small communities.”
Another Patriot Guard member, Terry Spurgeon, said he started organizing the trip to Effingham after he received a request from Greg Sapp, Tipsword’s nephew, to be a part of the service.
“This is what the Patriot Guard does. We do it for any veteran and any first responder. If they request us, we try to get there. It’s just giving back,” Spurgeon said.
Spurgeon is from the Alton area and said he drove an hour and 15 minutes in the cold rain on his motorcycle to get to the funeral.
Leroy Tucker of Altamont also attended the services and said his cousin, Jerry White, asked him specifically to come.
Tucker attributed the massive response from the community to Tipsword’s return to the fact that many people in the community have some connection to the family and have heard about Tipsword and his service in the Navy.
“Everybody knows the family,” Tucker said.
Greg Sapp of Effingham said he never thought he’d see the day when his uncle would be identified and returned home to be laid to rest. Even when he first received a call suggesting that his uncle had been found, Sapp was quite skeptical.
“My scam alert went up,” he said.
“What would you know about any of this?” he said he asked the man.
It wasn’t until after a long line of questioning that Sapp began to believe the man on the phone was telling the truth.
“I kept him on the phone for an hour. He wouldn’t quit. And then I sicked my brother Brett on him. Brett’s a Navy veteran, and he went at him for 25 minutes. Brett called me back and says, ‘I think he’s legit,'” Sapp said.
Sapp said it was important to him and his family to give Tipsword the proper military honors at his funeral that he had earned all those years ago. He also said laying his uncle to rest in the same town he grew up in was something he and his family had always wished.
“I know in the procession we were going across the line from Fayette into Effingham County and I said, ‘Keith, you’re finally home,'” he said. “That’s why the burial’s in Moccasin. That’s where he grew up. In fact, that’s where he lived until he was enlisted, so what better place is there?”
Sapp said although he was amazed by the massive amount of support he and his family received from the community, he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see this kind of response from the community he has always held dear.
“It’s hard to put it into words. It’s not unexpected though that so many people are wanting to be a part of things,” he said.
Part of the community’s response was placing hundreds of flags along the route from the funeral home to Tipsword’s burial site.
“We’re talking 700 flags,” Sapp said.
Sapp also said he was happy to see his uncle buried where he grew up, rather than in Hawaii, where he was killed in action.
“It’s like he’s part of us. He belongs in the Effingham area,” he said. “This is where he started so this is where he is going to end, and it’s great for us.”
At the burial, another relative of Tipsword, Jerry White, called the response from the community “heartwarming.”
“It’s almost indescribable,” White said.
White said he was particularly happy with the people and flags that lined the route of the funeral procession. Residents and students from Altamont schools honored Tipsword as his casket made its way through Altamont. Locals from all along the route also joined in, paying their respects.
“It was just amazing to watch the people as we came through town. Even Moccasin had people out,” White said.
White even joked that the service probably brought one of the biggest crowds Tipsword’s hometown has ever seen.
“Jokingly, I’d say this is the biggest crowd that’s been in Moccasin since Abraham Lincoln came through,” he said. “It’s heartwarming.”
White also pointed out that the Tipsword farm is just across the street from the Moccasin Cemetery.
Tuesday also proved to be an emotional day for Tipsword’s sister, Dalyne Sapp.
“It’s wonderful. It warms my heart for sure,” she said.
Like White, she enjoyed seeing the community rally behind her and her family for Tipsword’s funeral.
“When we came through Altamont with all the people out, too, that was super because this is where he grew up,” Dalyne Sapp said. “It’s been a wonderful day.”
Dalyne Sapp also was happy to see her brother returned to the town where he grew up.
“To be home, it’s super,” she said.
She said her brother coming home and finally receiving the funeral with military honors that he deserved was nothing short of a miracle.
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