Veteran visits brother's grave at Arlington as Honor Flight begins D.C. tour
ARLINGTON, Va. — Section 54, marker No. 99. It's three rows in from the intersection of King and Eisenhower.
Ralph Newberry has kept those numbers in his head for eight years. There are others, too. The four aircraft carriers his ship sank in the Battle of Midway. The three 500-pound bombs that landed on the deck of his war boat in the Pacific Ocean.
"Boom, boom, boom," he says they went.
Now, as the Tolono man sits in a wheelchair before thousands of perfect lines of uniform white grave markers standing at attention above the manicured lawn, he remembers his older brother, who requested to serve on the same ship.
He knows he's close.
Ralph has been here before. He came Thursday to Washington with a group of 65 World War II veterans as part of the latest Central Illinois Honor Flight, and Arlington National Cemetery was the first stop on the tour. The other 64 veterans were led to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the reverent changing of the guard ceremony.
Ralph has seen that before. He asked the guides to let him stray on the first stop. He thought it was a long shot, but they couldn't say no to his request.
He'd rather be here.
"What are we on?" Ralph asks.
"This is King," says his grandson, Mark Cooper, pushing the wheelchair. "We're on King right now."
Section 54. Now to find grave marker No. 99. There are a lot more now since Ralph buried his brother Denny eight years ago, when he and Denny's son stood and watched as six sailors carried his casket to the fresh grave. On that day, a new grave was being dug next to Denny's for another soldier's wife — grave No. 100. Grave No. 101 would be dug about a week later, and that's how Section 54 filled up over the eight years.
He stands up out of the chair. He's not quite as quick as he was the morning the U.S.S. Enterprise entered Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, when his ship was a few hours late getting back to port. A broken-down destroyer had trouble keeping pace as the Enterprise was returning to Oahu from another assignment, so it slowed down. It should have been back Saturday night.
He carefully calculates the undulations in the ground as he makes his way down the third row of white tablets rising from the lawn.
There's marker No. 99. Denny's grave.
DENNY ALBERT NEWBERRY is sharply etched in black into the stone under the outline of a cross.
WORLD WAR II
MAR 5 1916
JUN 13 2004
Denny was three years older than Ralph. Ralph cracks a slight smile when he remembers the day Denny stepped aboard the U.S.S. Lexington in Panama in 1939.
He had seen from the flight deck that someone had stepped onto the boat, but he did not know who it was.
"Your brother's aboard," Ralph remembers another sailor telling him. "I said, 'You gotta be kidding.'"
The truth is, Denny didn't know where Ralph was. Denny just wanted to get out of Panama, and Ralph's ship happened to be passing through.
He didn't always run into Denny in his day-to-day routine, but Ralph laughs now when he remembers some of the on-board arguments when he crossed his brother. As brothers are apt to do.
But that was before the Navy prohibited siblings from serving on the same ship, after five brothers were on a boat that sank. They all died.
"He joined up with you just before that happened, huh?" Mark says in front of the grave now.
"Well, no," Ralph says. "We was together just about three years."
It's just then when Ralph's mind wanders back to the magnitude of Arlington National Cemetery.
"Let's see. They were going right along," Ralph says as he points at the third row in Section 54. "He and his son, Bill, we came over here, and they were digging the next grave."
Ralph, Bill, a bugler, the Navy pall bearers, a chaplain and a squad for a salute were at that funeral. The chaplain asked if Ralph wanted to say anything.
"His tortured brain is at rest now," he remembers saying.
Ralph spends a little more time near Denny's grave telling his grandson war stories — the good ones. How the U.S.S. Enterprise was the most decorated warship in the Pacific and how his crew made sure they sank every aircraft carrier that attacked Pearl Harbor. The exact same four.
Then he retraces his careful steps. Back through the third row, away from grave No. 99 and a neat line of white stones that repeats itself thousands of times. Out of Section 54. Back down King, then down Eisenhower, until he's back with the rest of the group.
By the time he meets up with the other veterans, it's not a tortured brain he talks about. He thanks his tour guide for letting him stray to see his brother again after eight years apart.