Ray Duckler: No proof, no place in a veterans cemetery
For now, Joyce Rankin’s father is in a small box in her living room, surrounded by photos and an uncertain future.
Rankin can only hope that she can find a way to verify the military service of her dad, Maurice Armand Soucy, who worked in the mills of Manchester as a kid and got his hands dirty earning a living his whole life.
The fire occurred 40 years ago at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, the nerve center for military records, destroying millions of files needed to prove who really served in the armed forces.
And the burglary happened about four years ago at Rankin’s home in Arizona, a theft that included jewelry, $800 in cash, a gun and, most important, her dad’s discharge papers from the Army.
That’s why Soucy’s cremated remains are in that box on that shelf, instead of scattered at the National Memorial
Cemetery in Phoenix. That’s why Rankin went on a local
TV news show in Glendale recently to tell her story. And that’s why a retired Air Force master sergeant, who also lives in Arizona, called Rankin and is now doing his best impression of Sherlock Holmes.
“Someone has to have information or records on him,” Rankin said this week by phone. “We went on Father’s Day to the veterans cemetery here in Arizona, and my husband’s father is buried there. I got teary eyed and told my husband that this is where my dad needs to be. Not sitting in my living room on a shelf. My dad needs to be honored with all these other soldiers.”
Soucy died of congestive heart failure in 2006, at the age of 76. He grew up in a working-class family, in a working-class Manchester neighborhood. He went straight from grammar school to hard, blue-collar jobs, moving from the mills, to road repairs, to heavy equipment.
That’s how his daughter remembers him: tough, a man who rose in the morning darkness, got home during the evening darkness and sometimes juggled three jobs at once.
“I just honored and respected him; all of us kids did,” Rankin said. “My father was from the very old school, discipline, and everyone was afraid of dad. You better do what you’re told and not do what you ain’t supposed to do, or you’d be in trouble. Grounded, punished, whatever.”
Before marriage and family and earning a living, Soucy joined the Army, in 1947, Rankin and his brother, Gene Soucy, also now living in Phoenix, guessed. While serving, he met the woman who would become his wife, a local waitress from Arkansas named Billy Joe Brooks.
After a medical discharge in 1949, Soucy raised his family in Connecticut before retiring to the warmth of the west. The confusion over his final resting place actually began in 1973, the year a fire torched the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center.
A media representative from the center did not respond to a message left with an employee yesterday. But online research says that records for 80 percent of those discharged from the Army between 1912 and 1960 were destroyed, with no duplicate copies or microfilm anywhere to be found.
That left thousands of families to scramble for confirmation so that loved ones could be buried in national military cemeteries across the country.
Not in a plastic box measuring 9 inches by 6½ inches.
Shortly after her father’s death, Rankin went to work. First, she called Soucy’s brother, Gene.
“I gave her as much information as I had,” Gene Soucy said. “That fire destroyed a lot of records, including his time frame in the Army. But I guess she’s gotten some help from a guy.”
That would be retired Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Johnson, who saw Rankin on TV 3 news out of Phoenix and climbed aboard. Johnson, 77, has passionately chased down medals and recognition for servicemen he says were never acknowledged after fighting in places like the Philippines during World War II.
Combining their efforts, Johnson and Rankin have left messages and waited on hold, calling Sen. John McCain, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the national cemetery in Phoenix, the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and media outlets, both here and in Arizona.
“It’s been a very long process,” Rankin said. “My father’s been sitting on that shelf for a long time.”
Complicating matters, of course, was the burglary. The stolen box contained important papers once belonging to Soucy, including his DD214 papers, which document a serviceman’s discharge from the military.
With Soucy’s DD214 safe in Rankin’s possession, you wouldn’t be reading about this feisty former Manchester resident right now.
“They took that box because it was under lock and key,” Rankin said. “They must have thought there was something valuable in there.”