Private First Class Jarrell Bryant
Memorial in Enola, AR
Ben De Staercke
Memorial in Enola, AR
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- It's a story that captured immediate attention.
About two weeks ago in a THV extra, Liz Massey featured a story on a young man thousands of miles away on a mission to honor a fallen Arkansas hero. But we were left with a missing piece of the puzzle. The mystery of the soldier's family. Were they still alive or still in Arkansas?
An album of memories; each page, each photograph taking a mother and son back in time.
"I never thought that he wouldn't come back to us. I never one time thought it, but he knew he wouldn't," says Eva Bumpers.
"I think of him quite often, what it would be like if it hadn't of happened," says Larry Bryant.
It all began this past Veteran's Day with our story about a 20-year-old Belgian postal worker honoring an Arkansan killed in action and the search for his family. Immediately the phone rang and emails poured in. That led us to Lenexa, Kansas and the home of Private First Class Jarrell Bryant's widow, 92-year-old Eva Bumpers and their son 71-year-old Larry Bryant.
Together they watch and see the face and hear the voice of a stranger. His name is Ben De Staercke. He belongs to a living history group and has adopted Private Bryant's grave in Belgium.
De Staercke says, "I try to visit his gravesite three to four times each year. It's important that we keep the memories alive of the people who assured that freedom."
And for the first time we hear first-hand how this Arkansas hero lived and died.
Eva says, "I can't tell you, he's just the best thing in the world. I think he loved me beyond love, and I know I did him."
She recalls, "They told me everything, they told me exactly how he was killed all about the bullet that killed him."
Eva and Private Bryant tied the knot in 1939. A year later Larry came along.
"Jarrell was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful husband and father. He was smart. He was a good Christian gentleman and we had wonderful times together," says Eva.
Then World War II broke out and the Army deployed Private Bryant to Germany. They wrote often. One love letter Eva will never forget.
She recalls, "Just remember God up in heaven will direct the way that he wants me to go and if it's his will I go to see him, it's my will and I hope it's your will. I'll always live with that, cause I know he was ready to see his Lord, I know he was."
February 23, 1945.
"The only word I saw in the telegram was 'killed'. I didn't see his name. I didn't see one other word," says Eva.
Private Jarrell Bryant died volunteering to take a wounded comrade to get help.
Eva remembers, "So he took him and threw him across his shoulders and when he did a flashlight came out of his pocket and it went on, out of the young man's pocket and it went on and they shot the light and killed both of them instantly. He was buried in a trench with 17 of his outfit the day he died."
Years later, the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium would be his final resting place. Eva and Larry have never been there but Ben de Staercke has several times.
"Hi Ben, this is Larry. I'm the son of Jarrell and I want to thank you for taking care of my dad's grave. You must be one fantastic kid!"
A son, a war widow and a stranger. Three people now linked for life through an American hero.
Eva has a message for Ben as well.
"I thank you for everything you've done for him and you've kept him alive for me."
Eva eventually did remarry but her second husband has since passed away. Larry meanwhile followed in his father's footsteps and joined the military. He spent four years in the Marines.
Eva and Larry are eager to talk to Ben and hope to phone him soon.