“The American flag means a whole lot to me. I am glad that when I do come home I can say I have a share in it.”
Memorial Day honors the men and women who have given all for their country and for freedom, including nearly 420,000 Americans who lost their lives in World War II. Among the Museum’s collection are many stories of those who did not return, like PFC Darrel “Happy” Neil, killed in action on July 7, 1944 in France.
PFC Darrel “Happy” Neil was born on June 7, 1922 in Mulberry, Kansas, a former mining town which reported 1,175 residents in the 1940 census. He was very close with his father Oscar, a WWI veteran and his mother, Fay. When Neil was 20 years old, he married Wilma Harvey. Four months later, in November 1942, he enlisted in the Army. After training at Camp Robinson, Ft. Sill, Camp Bowie, and Camp Atterbury, he journeyed overseas with the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division in February 1944.
Neil wrote his parents an affectionate and introspective letter from England on May 23, 1944.
Dear Mom & Dad,
I have some spare time so I will drop you a line. I haven’t gotten any mail for the last three days. I don’t know just what the hold up is. But I’ll get a letter to-morrow I hope.
I have been out all day. I didn’t do much but I’ve completed another day. The days seem so long and lonesome. I guess it’s because I am always thinking of the good old U.S. I know how good the states looked to Dad after the last war. The American flag means a whole lot to me. I am glad that when I do come home I can say I have a share in it. That is more than some people can say. I hope my son doesn’t ever have to go through what I have and will go through. I am going to have a son when I come back home. That’s what I am fighting for. It may be a girl but I’ll think as much of a Daughter as I would a son.
I have been a P.F.C. for more than a year now. But there are no openings so there isn’t much use of hoping to make a rating. But I’ll be satisfied if I can do my job.
Well I’ll have to say “cherrieo [sic].” I guess Dad knows what that means. Good nite and God Bless all of you.
Lots of Love & Kisses,
The 30th Infantry Division landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D+5, June 11, 1944 and made their way to the Saint-Lô area. On July 7, 1944, the 120th Infantry Regiment made an assault crossing at the Vire-Taute Canal against a smaller, but well-positioned German force. It was there, that day, that Darrel “Happy” Neil was killed in action.
In the small town of Mulberry, Neil’s death announcement in the newspaper was prefaced by this communal reconciliation with the sacrifices of war: “With the grim reminder that men must die for the cause of liberation, it is with faint heart that this community must accept the news that our young men, too, must be among the white crosses of Europe.”
Neil would never have the chance to be the parent he had dreamed of becoming. He gave his all for the son or daughter he would never have. But his body did return home. Neil was one of 171,539 American casualties whose loved ones requested their return to US soil. In 1948, Neil was part of a worldwide repatriation effort which would last years. Ships sailing from overseas ports were loaded with deceased passengers, who were disembarked and transferred to mortuary cars and then shipped by rail to their final destinations. Each casket was accompanied by escorts from their particular service branch who would assure that the remains were properly identified, tracked, and respectfully delivered to their resting place. A memorial was held for Neil upon arrival in July 1948 at the Liberal Cemetery in Liberal, Missouri just seven miles from Neil’s hometown of Mulberry, Kansas. The Mulberry and Liberal American Legion posts conducted military honors. Along with these units, Neil’s six escorts are listed in the memorial program. Neil finally came to rest in Liberal City Cemetery, where he was joined by his beloved parents decades later. The flag that meant so much to him while in service draped his casket during the journey to his final resting place.
Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.