Thousands of flags marked the route through Brazil to the cemetery, where a Korean War veteran passed through one final tent before arriving at his final resting place.
More than 100 mourners gathered at Summit Lawn Cemetery at noon Saturday for the burial of Cpl. Robert Gene Archer, whose remains returned home after his death while a captive of enemy forces in the Korean War. Earlier in the morning, the parking lot of French Funeral Home on East National Avenue was full of motorcycles and flags as members of the American Legion Riders prepared for escort duty after the services.
Dave Funk, director of the American Legion Riders Post 2 in Brazil, said that in addition to Archer’s status as a veteran and prisoner of war, surviving family members belong to the American Legion and requested their participation. Riders also included members of Danville Post 118, and others yet belonged to the Patriot Riders.
Funk explained that while the two organizations are distinct entities, both share a number of members.
“The Patriot Riders and the American Legion Riders, there’s a lot mix,” he said, noting he’s belonged to the American Legion since 1991.
Archer returns to his hometown of Brazil after 62 years missing, Funk said, adding his organization was honored to be included in the services.
“Brazil, like many small towns, there’s a lot of history and tradition in honoring our veterans,” he said outside the funeral home.
Inside, the room dedicated to Archer’s services spilled over with visitors, many of whom remained standing throughout the program. Filled with officials from both city and county government bodies, surviving family members sat next to senior citizens dressed in the apparel of their veterans’ groups. Clay County Councilman Michael McCullough played “Back Home Again Indiana” on the organ, in addition to other hymns. And he was joined by Brazil City Councilman Sam Glover who sang “Amazing Grace.”
Pastor Chuck McMichael remarked at how few people remain who knew Archer. After attending Meridian School, then Brazil and Staunton high schools, Archer briefly worked at Mohr Garage in Brazil before enlisting in the U.S. Army.
“Not much else is known of him by his surviving family members,” McMichael said.
He was still 19 years old in late 1950 when the light truck driver and infantryman was reportedly captured near the Chosin Reservoir in communist North Korea. He reportedly died in captivity Feb. 28, 1951, but his body was not identified until recently through the use of DNA testing and samples from surviving relatives. Archer, who died without spouse or children. None of his immediate family remains alive today, with his parents — George and Alice — two brothers and four sisters all having died. His survivors include multiple nieces, nephews and cousins.
Lois Frazier, wife of Archer’s cousin Luther Frazier, said the decades since his passing have been hard on the family.
“It’s just a shame the way he passed away,” she said, remarking her own brother also served in the Korean War. “But at least we got him back. It’s a shame his parents didn’t live long enough to know what happened to him.”
Born March 17, 1931, Archer would have turned 82 next month had he lived.
McMichael remarked at the irony manifested in the lives of service members, who love their country enough to leave it for long periods of time, and value life so much they risk their own.
“It’s true that those who serve our country do so with their lives,” he said, pointing out the Apostle Paul was also a maker of tents, and well accustomed to those temporary shelters in which soldiers such as Archer live in discomfort. But the tents of this world are temporary relative to the eternal home offered by God, he said.
“In my Father’s house there are many rooms, if it was not so, I would have told you,” he said, quoting from the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to John.
Outside, more than 2,100 U.S. flags spanned a 5-mile trail through town to Summit Lawn Cemetery on Water Works Road. In addition to the flags marking the route, businesses along National Avenue had flags on display, and the City of Brazil posted another, significantly larger flag, from the raised ladder of a fire truck. That flag was visible from multiple points throughout town.
The trail of flags continued into the cemetery, where veterans’ graves were likewise marked by more, up to the northeast corner where Archer’s grave was located inside a blue funeral tent.
Graveside, McMichael credited the grace of God in Archer’s long-awaited return.
“Though once he was lost, now he is found,” he said, adding the lives of veterans are not lost in vain, but in return for America remaining the “land of the free and home of the brave.”
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.