I wrote the following last year for a dear friend who had recently passed. She was the middle sister in this story, and as we grew up, she told us stories of Beau so that he came alive, although he died 19 years before I was born. Maybe it’s because I am a historian, but for the life of me I cannot think of those who died in our wars without thinking of the terrible holes their deaths tore in the fabric of our lives. This year, as I thought of what I might want to say about Memorial Day, it kept coming back to this: who would men like Beau have become, and what has the world lost by never knowing their children?
In the end, I decided just to rerun last year’s post from Memorial Day, because right now, anyway, I have nothing more to add:
Floyston Bryant, whose nickname was “Beau,” had always stepped in as a father to his three younger sisters when their own father fell short.
In September 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a Staff Sergeant in the 322nd Bomber Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, nicknamed "Wray's Ragged Irregulars" after their commander Col. Stanley T. Wray. By the time Beau joined, the squadron was training with new B-17s at Dow Army Airfield near Bangor, Maine, and he hitchhiked three hours home before deploying to England so he could see his family once more.
It would be the last time. The 91st Bomb group was a pioneer bomb group, figuring out tactics for air cover. By May 1943, it was experienced enough to lead the Eighth Air Force as it sought to establish air superiority over Europe. But the 91st did not have adequate fighter support until 1944. It had the greatest casualty rate of any of the heavy bomb squadrons.
Beau was one of the casualties. On August 12, 1943, while he was on a mission, enemy flak cut his oxygen line and he died before the plane could make it back to base. He was buried in Cambridge, England, at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, the military cemetery for Americans killed in action during WWII. He was twenty years old.
I grew up with Beau’s nephews and nieces, and we made decades of havoc and memories. But Beau's children weren't there, and neither he nor they are part of the memories.
His sisters are all gone now, along with almost all of their friends. We are all getting older, and soon no one will be left who even remembers his name.
When Beau was a teenager, he once spent a week’s paycheck on a dress for his middle sister, so she could go to a dance.
I wish you all a meaningful Memorial Day.