Family finds grave of missing WWII pilot in French cemetery

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Family members of Second Lt. John W. Reeves were always told their loved one’s body was never recovered when his B-24 bomber went down over Hungary in 1944. Genealogy buff Tammy Bush said she always had an inkling that might not be true.

After searching rosters to see if he was listed as missing in action or killed in action, Bush discovered her uncle is buried in a French cemetery dedicated to American veterans. She visited the grave earlier this year.

“I called this government number … and this lady called me back a couple of days later and said, ‘I found him.’ … I was like, ‘Oh my God. We found Uncle J.W.,’” Bush recalled, adding that her uncle — the older brother of her father, the late Tom Reeves — has only one living sibling, Ura Robinson, who lives in Nashville.

Even more puzzling was the paper signed by her grandfather, John W. Reeves Sr., giving the government permission to bury his son in France. Her grandfather died in 1952, taking the secret with him to the grave.

“He never told our grandmother. We think he knew she’d be upset, like she was reliving it over again. It would have been too much for her,” said Cherie Jobe, Bush’s sister.

The country’s economy was still reeling from the Great Depression and then war, so Bush said it was common for families to allow their loved ones to remain interred overseas.

“They recommended you let them stay there,” Bush said.

J.W. Reeves was gone, but not forgotten. His name is engraved on a monument on the Murfreesboro Public Square dedicated to deceased World War II veterans from Rutherford County and listed on Middle Tennessee State University’s Roll of Honor online. Smith-Rogers-Reeves VFW post is also co-named in his honor.

Jobe, Bush and their siblings, Tommy Reeves and Donna Orr, all grew up listening to their grandmother speak about her late son, often pulling out his uniform and medals to share stories.

For more than 15 years, Bush dreamed of visiting the grave of “Uncle J.W.” So when she and her husband were planning their 20th wedding anniversary trip to Europe this spring, they roped in a visit to the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in Lorraine, France.

Tammy and Kevin Bush drove three hours from Paris to the cemetery, which contains the largest number of graves of World War II American service members, totaling 10,489. There's also a towering memorial with engraved names of those missing in action, as well as an interior chapel for quiet reflection.

The cemetery is situated on more than 110 green acres dotted with pristine white marble crosses, each one is etched with a service member’s name. Bush said the names are so faint, you can hardly read them. So a cemetery guide makes the names more visible in a small ceremony.

“They have a container with sand from Omaha Beach (where soldiers landed on D-Day, June 6, 1944).Our guide rubbed it in so we can see the name. Then she gave us two flags — one from France and an American flag — and she put up on each side of the headstone. ... We had to choke back (tears). ... It was beautiful," Bush said. "They will do that ceremony for each and every person. Being an American cemetery so far from home, it's not that often that they have visitors for those veterans. But when they do, a staff member is on duty at the visitors building to escort relatives to grave sites."

Follow Nancy De Gennaro on Twitter: @DNJMama


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment