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Ken Beaton: There are no accidents

Ken Beaton
A Marine pauses to pay his respect to one of 2,289 boys buried at the Aisne-Marne American Battle Monuments Cemetery in France. Eben Bradbury Jr. was one of the 116,708 American boys killed in action in World War I. Eben rests eternally in Plot A, row 7, Grave 84.
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It all seemed so innocent as I removed a section of the May 28, 2017, Sunday Boston Globe. The red and white headline, “REMEMBERING THE HEROES,” caught my attention. I have a soft spot in my heart for a great story.

Globe correspondent James Sullivan began his article, “A few years ago, Bethany Groff Dorau met a boy. Now she’s devoted to his memory. For her, every day is Memorial Day.”

Before I continue, allow me to share a personal belief, there are no accidents. James’s article began with Bethany, a historian, visiting Newburyport, Mass., on an errand in 2015. She had completed a textbook entry on the Battle of Belleau Wood, a fierce three-week World War I battle where German troops called our Marines “Devil Dogs.” Having passed the plaque in Bartlet Mall numerous times, that day she was prompted to read the plaque:

“Eben Bradbury, Jr Triangle

Named in Honor of

Eben Bradbury, Jr.

5th Regt. US Marines

He was killed in The Battle of Belleau Woods — France

June 12, 1918”

This sparked her to research Eben’s short life in city records and newspaper clippings. At Newburyport High School he was a baseball pitcher. His friends knew him as “Bunny.” Bethany began to refer to Eben as “our boy.”

It wasn’t an accident when Bethany was introduced to Steve Bradbury, a retired fireman and distant relative of the fallen Marine private. Steve had a medal that was sent to Newburyport after Eben’s death. When Steve learned Bethany and her husband planned a European honeymoon, he asked her if she would place the medal on Eben’s grave marker in the Aisne-Marie American Battle Monuments Cemetery in Belleau Wood.

Bethany and her husband visited Aisne-Marie American Cemetery in 2015. She placed the medal and scattered a small bag of dirt in front of his grave marker collected from the front yard of Eben’s boyhood home.

When they returned to Massachusetts she wrote about her emotional trip in a local newspaper. A collector in California found her article on the internet.

Eben’s parents moved to California after his death to distance themselves from the painful reminders of their loss. The California collector called Bethany to inform her he had purchased some estate sale items that belonged to Eben’s father. He sent Bethany bundles of letters; many were sent to Eben, several were unopened. Some letters were from Eben to his parents. The first letter she opened began, “Dear Folks.” Immediately, she replaced the letter in the envelope with tears running down both cheeks.

When her emotions had settled, she invited several friends to have a “laptop party.” Each volunteer spend a full day transcribing stacks of letters. The clicking of keyboard keys was occasionally interrupted with laughter or to blot overworked tear ducts. A complete transcript of Eben’s letters will be sent to the Aisne-Marne American Battle Monuments Cemetery for its archives.

There are no accidents! Two days before her April 2017 presentation at the Newburyport City Hall, a man contacted her. He had Eben’s dad’s dairy. Now she’s driven to complete Eben’s book by June 12, 2018, the 100th anniversary of his death.

Bethany Groff Dorau offers this advice, “It is an incredible lesson to just look around. The ghosts of our city are all around you, all the time.”

James Sullivan is an excellent human interest writer drawing the reader into the story of Eben Bradbury, one of 116,708 Americans killed in World War I. You can contact James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com.

Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.