WW II Vet Bob Fiehler

SS Robert Fiehler layoutOne of the first people I met at the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum was volunteer Bob Fielher. At the time, I just thought he was a nice guy who knew a lot about area history.

I wish I had recorded some of this stories. Unfortunately, Bob died of cancer in 2009, and I missed the opportunity. Over the years, I have gotten to know his son Gerard, and Gerard has done a great job of keeping his memories alive.

Gerard tells about a boy who had never been further than St. Louis, who was drafted at 18; drove a tank in the Battle of the Bulge at 19; won a Purple Heart; stayed in Germany as a translator during the Occupation, and then returned to Altenburg to work in the family garage.

“He had lived a whole lifetime …”

“He had lived a whole lifetime by the time he was 20 years old,” Gerard observed.

This is a video worth watching on Veterans Day.

Portraits for the Ages

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillI spent a lot of my younger years in Southeast Missouri cemeteries because Mother and Grandmother made a point of keeping fresh decorations on the graves of family and friends. As a child, I was fascinated by two things in the Advance cemetery where my namesake, Kenneth Welch, was buried.

A few rows over from his stone was a marker with a photograph on it. On the left as you made the circle to leave the cemetery was a wooden box with a glass cover. Inside was an intricate hair bouquet made from the deceased’s hair. The ceramic photo is still on the first marker, but there is no trace of the bouquet on the second one, and I’ve not been able to figure out which grave it marked.

Since then, I’ve been acutely aware of gravestones with photos on them. My interest was rekindled when I saw a photo of a young woman in her coffin on a stone in a church outside Gordonville.

Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillWhen Mother and I went down to the Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery outside Marble Hill looking for Veterans Day flag photos, I was amazed at how many graves were marked with pictures. This is the cemetery, by the way, that had the unusual shoe marker.

Some photos captured a tender moment in a pair of lives. Others were more formal. Some dated to the turn of the 20th Century, others had been taken in the past decade.

Toddler photo was hard to look at

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillI had a hard time editing the photo of Ricky Dale Wiseman, who died in 1967. A bright-eyed one-year shouldn’t be beneath a tombstone. I didn’t feel floods of emotions like that until I had kids and grandsons. I guess you do acquire some wisdom with old age.


Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillOne large black stone had the photo of a young couple on it. (OK, RELATIVELY young: he was born two years after me.) Steve L. Chandler died in 2004; his wife, Julia M. is still living. At the bottom of the stone is a photo of “Lucky.” I have to wonder if Lucky is buried there.

Sometimes you should leave well enough alone and not do any more research. FindAGrave, carried Steve’s obit: “Steve L. Chandler, 55, of Marble Hill died Dec. 3, 2004, at his home, following an illness. He was born July 12, 1949 in Cape Girardeau, son of Lynn and Wanda (Ricketts) Chandler. He and Julia Johnson were married April 18, 1992 in Marble Hill. Mr. Chandler was a member of Lutesville Presbyterian Church and Marble Hill VFW Post 5900.

He was co-owner and pharmacy technician of the 103-year-old Chandler Drug Store in Marble Hill. He was a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War and was awarded a Purple Heart. Survivors include his wife. He was preceded in death by a son, Austin Lynn.”

Still curious about Lucky, I expanded my search. RootsWeb’s WorldConnect project had the same obit, but it also had a link about Austin Lynn. I wish I hadn’t clicked it.

The Southeast Missourian – July 30 1992 – Marble Hill–Austin Lynn Chandler, 5, was found dead Tuesday, July 28, 1992, in Crooked Creek near Marble Hill.”

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. All thoughts of having a happy post about Lucky evaporated.

Photo gallery of grave photos

I don’t think I can handle any more obits for children tonight. Here’s a collection of some of the photos that appear on tombstones in the Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery. I’ll post similar photos from other cemeteries from time to time.

Veterans Day Flags 2013

Bollinger County Memorial Park 11-11-2013While I was prowling around Bollinger County Memorial Park last week, I noticed flag holders along the driveways. Unlike Cape County’s North Park, these have markers honoring the servicemen and women. I don’t know if the flags match the markers, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. Anyway, I made a note to take a look back there on Veterans Day.

Of course, to get to Marble Hill from Cape, you have to pass North park, so I had to pull in there, too. It wasn’t the greatest day for pictures. Unlike some of the other times I’ve shot the flags, the sky was mostly overcast and the wind wasn’t whipping the flags very much.

Past Flag photos

Veterans Day photo gallery from Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties.

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the sides to move through the gallery. (The first two shots are from Cape County; the rest are from near Marble Hill.)

Cpl. Robert Taylor 1947-1968

When I wrote about ’64 classmate Gary Schemel being killed in Vietnam, Bill East quickly pointed out that the Class of 1964 had also lost Bobby Taylor in the war.

Sondra Cook chimed in, “Both Gary and Bobby were great guys. Bobby went to Washington Elem. and was a one semester behind me until the infamous Cape summer school when the “B” classes made up the semester of work. Gary moved to Cape when we were in Jr. High. My eyes still tear every time I go to the Vietnam Memorial or see the Visiting Wall and find their names.”

Bob’s name on Freedom Corner

A plaque on a pillar in Capaha Park’s Freedom Corner lists some of Cape Girardeau’s Vietnam casualties. There was some discussion here about other Cape names.

Larry Saddler: “[Gary] was a great guy. I lived within blocks of both Gary and Bob Taylor (also a great guy). Looking back I think they both died for absolutely nothing. I’m a big flag waver, but I think we wasted many lives with that war and I wonder if in the future many supporters will think we are wasting lives in our current conflicts. I think of Gary, Bob, and also Earl Tharp often, wondering what their lives cold have been if they had lived. I’m also thankful they were willing to serve. God bless them all.

[A Missourian story reported Earl Tharp, the 20-year-old son of a Cape Girardeau minister, was killed in June 1970 when enemy mortal fire hit his base camp in Vietnam.]

Burt Lehman: “I remember them both. Bob Taylor was like an older brother. We had great times together. I served in Vietnam and I am proud of my service to my country. The war was won after Tet of 1968, but somehow turned into defeat by media and politics. Gave the NVA and Viet Cong just enough encouragement to carry on the war. We were ultimately fighting “for” each other so I don’t believe that any of us died in vain. We still embrace as brothers no matter what our politics are. I have the greatest respect for Gary and Bob for the sacrifice they made.”

 First flag for Parade of Flags

A Missourian Out of the Past column about a 1987 story said “Early response has been good for a Parade of Flags that will be on display near the war memorial in Cape County Park on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day; the first burial flag turned in as part of the display honored Robert L. Taylor Jr., who was killed in the Vietnam War.

Bob’s brother, Tom, honored his memory

Tom Taylor posted a tribute to his brother on his Facebook page. I asked for permission to reprint the photos and some of Tom’s remarks. Most of these were downloaded from Facebook. Here’s Bob as a Troop 15 Eagle Scout in 1963.

Bob as SEMO student

Tom said that Bob attended Southeast Missouri State College in 1966-67.

Worked as a lineman

Bob’s deep tan was a result of his work as a lineman the summer before he joined the military, Tom said. The picture was taken at his home, probably in 1966.

Bob Taylor in Vietnam

From Tom: Bobby (far right) with his squadmates in Vietnam; probably the last photo of him before his death.

In the 1986 movie  “Platoon,” actor Willam Dafoe played Sgt. Elias and actor Tom Berenger played the scar-faced Sgt. Barnes. Elias treated his men with respect, and took new soldiers under his wing, teaching them how to stay alive. Barnes treated his men with contempt, putting the newest soldiers out front like cannon fodder.

From all accounts, Bobby was like Elias. He always took new soldiers under his wing and taught them how to survive.

Virtual Wall profile

Here is the Bob’s profile on the Virtual Wall. It’s an incredible resource. [The following information is Copyright 1997-2012 www.VirtualWall.org, Ltd.]

PERSONAL DATA: Home of Record: Cape Girardeau, MO; Date of birth: 03/10/1947

MILITARY DATA: Service: Army of the United States; Grade at loss: E3; Rank: Corporal; Note: Posthumous Promotion as indicated; ID No: 56586679; MOS: 11B10: Infantryman; Unit: C CO, 3RD BN, 60TH INFANTRY, 9TH INF DIV, USARV

CASUALTY DATA: Start Tour: 10/31/1967; Incident Date: 03/08/1968; Casualty Date: 03/08/1968; Age at Loss: 20; Location: Dinh Tuong Province, South Vietnam; Remains: Body recovered; Casualty Type: Hostile, died outright; Casualty Reason: Ground casualty; Casualty Detail: Gun or small arms fire

ON THE WALL: Panel 43E Line 062

Bob was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. His citation says, in part, “Through his untiring efforts and professional ability, he consistently obtained outstanding results. He was quick to grasp the implications of new problems with which he faced as a result of the ever changing situations inherent in a counterinsurgency operation and to find ways and means to solve those problems. The energetic application of his extensive knowledge has materially contributed to the efforts of the United States mission to the Republic of Vietnam to assist that country in ridding itself of the Communist threat to its freedom.

“His initiative, zeal, sound judgement and devotion to duty have been in the highest tradition of the Unite States Army and reflect great credit on him and the military service.”