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WWII soldier, listed as MIA, gets graveside service with military honors 75 years later

By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET | Glasgow Daily Times, Ky. | Published: May 29, 2019

GLASGOW, Ky. (Tribune News Service) — Family, friends and members of military-related organizations gathered to give Willard Wallace Ennis a graveside service 75 years after his death with full military honors on Memorial Day, but his grave in Glasgow is empty.

Ennis was a staff sergeant and a heavy tail gunner and belly gunner with the U.S. Army Air Forces 370th Bomber Squadron, 307th Bomber Group when his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in October 1944, his cousin said. His body was never recovered and he is listed as missing in action.

He was posthumously awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart.

The flat black marker with a vase on one side and his photo on the other in now the headstone to go with the standard military foot stone that was already at Happy Valley Memorial Gardens.

Darrell Pickett, president of the Barren County Veterans Association, began with opening remarks and said that Ennis' cousin, Kim Sanders Mathis, had done a wonderful job finding people in the community who worked to make this happen.

He said this type of event was what Memorial Day was all about, remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Rev. Kenny Hardin, pastor at Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, where Ennis' family members attend, said that, for the family, the words “missing in action” have a certain connotation, and perhaps a loneliness and question marks.

“But for God, there's not,” he said, proceeding to read Bible scripture from Psalm 139, in which David writes about how God knows everything about him.

Shifting back to Ennis, Hardin said that God knows what happened to him, because he is omnipresent — everywhere.

“God walked with him through that,” he said. “We take peace in that today.”

After he led a prayer, Mathis spoke about what she knew of the man born in Lecta in 1925, who graduated from Hiseville High School. After he joined what she said she believes was known then as the air academy, “he was sent off to fight for our country.”

His squadron had carried out 15 bombings, she said, but during “a very ferocious fight in the area of Borneo, Wallace's plane that contained him and nine other fine Americans didn't come back. They were all lost at sea and nothing was ever found of any of those patriots.”

She held up his military photo, pointing out he was only 19 when he died.

Mathis said she made it her mission to have this service for him so her mother, Roberta Sanders, could have some closure, because she had loved Ennis so much she named her son, Mark Wallace Sanders, who was also present Monday, after him.

From there, the members of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 20 honor guard took over the honors. The flag was lowered to half staff. Two wreaths were placed, one near the base of the flagpole and one at Ennis' marker.

This was followed by a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps," after which a trio of DAV members slowly unfolded, displayed and then refolded a U.S. flag, with a fourth member explaining the process and what each of the 13 folds symbolized.

DAV Chaplain Charles Logsdon said it seemed very peaceful there, and God had a hand in that, and he spoke about how those who have gone before can see things we can't before leading a prayer.

DAV member Billy Houchens kneeled before Roberta Sanders in her seat, and placed into her hands “this flag he so honorably served under.”

“Thank you all,” she said quietly as Houchens stepped away and his comrades broke their salute.

©2019 the Glasgow Daily Times (Glasgow, Ky.)

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