Honor Has No Expiration Date

  • Published
  • By Katherine C. Gandara
  • Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Public Affairs

There have been 71 Veterans Days since Army Cpl. Norvin D. Brockett was listed as missing in action. Corporal Brockett was a member of Battery A, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, 31st Regimental Combat Team. He was reported missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.

His family never gave up hope that he would be found and brought home one day, especially Norvin’s older brother Melvin. Melvin was also in the Army serving in a unit just south of where his brother’s unit was located. Melvin had tried to dissuade Norvin from joining the Army because he was only 17 years old. Norvin wanted to be with his brother and convinced his parents to sign the papers allowing him to enlist. Melvin made a promise to his parents that he would take care of Norvin but the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir claimed Norvin and thousands of other U.S. troops as casualties. Melvin made a new promise to never quit trying to find his brother.

On Aug. 9, 2019, an Army representative from the Past Conflict Repatriations Branch called to inform Norvin’s family that his remains were identified. They were part of the contents of 55 boxes of remains turned over to the U.S. by North Korea on July 27, 2018. Norvin’s brother, Melvin, didn’t receive that call because he died in October 2008. However, he arranged for his daughter to remain a point of contact for the Army regarding Norvin’s status and to keep a promise made so long ago. It was a great honor to receive that call about my Uncle Norvin on behalf of my father Melvin.

After almost two years of delays due to COVID, Corporal Brockett was interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on July 21, 2021. Attending family included myself, my son and his fiancé. Even though it was 71 years later, I realized that honor has no expiration date. The men and women who participated in my uncle’s funeral did so with a respect and reverence every service member deserves.

As we stood waiting for the service in the Fort Myer Old Post Chapel to start, we were asked to turn toward the main chapel doors for the entrance of the flag draped casket. When the doors opened, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Outside the chapel stood a full honor guard, a marching element of soldiers, as well as a military band. Seeing our uncle escorted into the chapel reminded me just how long this journey has been. I thought about the burden my father carried for so many years waiting for Norvin’s return and there was a peace knowing we had finally arrived at the final chapter of the homecoming.

After the chapel service, we prepared to follow the procession of a horse-drawn caisson, military band, and the marching element of soldiers to the burial site. As we made our way through Arlington, I watched groundskeepers, park rangers, and visitors stop and come to the side of the road to honor my uncle’s passing. As we passed by many of the headstones of nearly 400,000 patriots laid to rest at Arlington, I thought about how many times this kind of procession has made its way through this peaceful place. It was if the steady beat of the drum keeping cadence acted as a call out to those resident patriots who quietly stood beside their own final resting place rendering a salute to honor a returning comrade.

At the graveside service, the U.S. Army Honor Guard Firing Party performed a three-volley salute. Then came the lone bugler playing the reverberating melody of Taps. We watched the team of pallbearers fold the flag that lay upon our uncle’s casket with meticulous care. I felt a sacred honor receiving the flag on behalf of my family and listening to those time-honored, heart wrenching words, "On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."

Several years ago I received a coin on Veterans Day in appreciation for my military service. I kept that coin with the idea that if Uncle Norvin ever returned home that I would place it on his casket to be buried with him. I got that chance and when I placed the coin upon the coffin, my message was simple, “Welcome Home.”

Our family is eternally grateful to this nation and the U.S. military for never giving up on finding and bringing our veteran home. We admire and appreciate the Arlington National Cemetery team and every single military and civilian team member who prepared the way and gave final honors to Corporal Norvin D. Brockett. After more than 70 Veterans Days not knowing where our uncle was, this year we know because a promise was kept. Finally home, Corporal Brockett rests in Section 32, Grave 291 at Arlington National Cemetery.