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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What a flag means for one family

Friday, May 22, 2009

Private First Class Richard "Dickie" Bigley.
Memorial Day commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. Recently one family's journey, which began with the loss of a loved one on the shores of Okinawa in June of 1945, has completed another leg of that lone journey for closure.

Bigley Street, in Elberta, Mich., is named in honor of Richard Bigley. Photo contributed
Martha Avis of Cherokee grew up in Michigan, She never met her uncle Richard "Dickie" Bigley but his memory was a big part of her life.

"We all grow up learning about Dickie, he was always part of the family" said Martha. She had strong memories when visiting her grandmother home of a trunk that her grandmother had that belonged to Dickie. "I was always trying to see what was in that trunk since I was a little girl" added Martha.

It was on a recent visit back to Michigan when Martha discovered what had been in the trunk for all these years.


Martha Avis and her husband Don are pictured displaying the flag that belonged to her uncle, Richard Bigley, who fell in battle on June 10, 1945. Martha recently set out to get the flag properly folded in the traditional military style. Photo by Mike Leckband
Private First Class Richard Ellis Bigley enlisted into the U.S. Maine Corps on Dec. 23 1943 in Detroit, Mich. He was assigned to the Marines Corps 6th Division. He along with several of the young men of Elberta, Mich. did what many young men did at that time and went to war to serve their country.

He was the son of Jesse Bigley Sr. and Clora Bigley and the brother to Jeanette and Jesse Jr.

He completed his training at Camp Pendleton and later went on to sniper school. His sister recalls a memory of this time period of a story of how Dickie was involved in an accident. It seems that an artillery belt that Dickie was wearing around his waste had exploded and by the grace of God he didn't receive a scrape.

Cherokee VFW Westcott Post 2253 Commander Dick Waterbury and Post member Dutch Robbins recently folded the flag that once belong to Richard Bigley. Photo by Mike Leckband
Dickie and Clora had a strong brother and sister relationship. Clora even recalled how Dickie showed his sister some ninjatsu moves so she could protect herself when he wasn't around.

Their relationship was cemented even further when on Dec. 25, 1944, Dickie wrote this letter to his sister.

"Dearest Sis,

Richard Waterbury and Dutch Robbins of the Cherokee VFW are pictured performing the military rites properly befitting the military- style folding of a flag, in memory of Private First Class Richard Bigley. Photo by Mike Leckband
I hope you're enjoying the holiday season and getting everything Santa can put in one bag. Sis I don't know where to send this letter as I've so many things to say. Sis the first place it won't be long until a new year is here. A year that may go down in your life as a pretty important one. As you know, I've been in the Marines Corps a year now and haven't seen any action.

Well Sis, the time is coming and very soon. I'm not worried, things like that don't worry me but there is always the chance that some thing may happen. If it does I want you to do as you have always done, be with mom, cheer her up, do every thing in you power to make her happy.

Some day you may see a movie of the 6th Marine Division on some island. My hope is that I may be with you to see it, but if I can't, I want to know that everything is going okay with you, mom and dad.

This is just a letter to let you know that you, mom, dad and the babe are the most important people in my life. I may be a flag waver but I'm over here for you.

Cherokee VFW LA Wescott Post 2253 Commander Dick Waterbury presents a folded memorial flag to Martha Avis, the niece of Richard Bigley, who was killed in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. A flag folding ceremony was recently held at the Veteran's Memorial at the Cherokee County Courthouse. Photo by Mike Leckband
I would rather mom did not read this letter until I come out of combat. Enclosed is a picture of a buddie I was with in the 54th and in Scout Sniper School back in the states. Keep it under cover for a while. As you can see he's seen combat already. He was in a hurry to see it as I am but I hope things can be a little different for me.

I guess you know you're not only the nicest girl in the world but the nicest sister. I'm sorry I didn't let you know how much I appreciated every thing you did for me when I was home. Well, Some day I'll let you know.

Good-bye for now and always remember how much I love you.

You loving brother



Dickie was shipped out to the Pacific Theater were he would be killed by a sniper bullet on June 10, 1945 during the final month of the Battle of Okinawa.

The Battle of Okinawa, also known as Operation Iceberg, was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II as well as the last pitched battle of the entire war. The 82 daylong battles lasted from late March through June 1945.

The battle has been referred to as the "Typhoon of Steel" in English, and tetsu no ame ("rain of steel") or tetsu no bōfū ("violent wind of steel") in Japanese. The nicknames refer to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of gunfire involved, and sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island. The battle has one of the highest number of casualties of any World War Two engagement: the Japanese lost over 100,000 troops, and the Allies (mostly United States) suffered more than 50,000 casualties, with over 12,000 killed in action. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, wounded or attempted suicide. Approximately one-fourth of the civilian population died due to the invasion. The Tenth Army had five Army Divisions, the 7th, 27th, 77th, 81st, and 96th; and two Marine Divisions, the 1st and 6th fought on the island while the 2nd remained as an amphibious reserve and was never brought ashore. All these divisions were supported by naval, amphibious, and tactical air forces.

The main objective of the operation was to seize a large island only 340 miles away from mainland Japan. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were approaching Japan, and Okinawa would serve as a springboard for the planned invasion of the islands. Although hastily converted to a base for air operations, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused Japan to surrender just weeks after the end of the fighting at Okinawa and the invasion never took place.


Dealing with a death of a loved one is never easy and it wasn't for the Pfc. Richard E Bigley either. After Dickie's death his personal effects were sent home and place in a trunk. Dickies, along with two other boys from Elberta, Mich. (a town of about 600 people) were killed during WWII. The town honored the three boys by naming three of the town's streets after their fallen sons.

It wasn't until some time in the early 1950's that Dickie's Body finally made it home to Elberta, Mich. It is presumed by the family that his coffin was draped with an American Flag, and when Dickie finally came home that flag was folded and placed into that memory trunk along with the rest of his belongings where they sat until recently.


Dickie's sister kept the promise that her brother charged her with and also installed the memory of him within her own children. While home on to visit her mother in Michigan, Martha Avis and her mother finally took the time and began to go through the trunk that she had been curious about all of her life.

Inside there were many of Dickie's personal effects among them a flag. That was when they came to the conclusion that this must have been the flag that coved Dickie's coffin.

According the Martha it was folded like a blanket. At the time she thought it would be nice to have the flag folded in the traditional military style like how her own fathers flag was folded. So Martha took the flag back home to Iowa so she could have it folded properly and to placed it next to her fathers flag.

Last week, Cherokee's VFW LA Wescott Post 2253 Commander Dick Waterbury, along with member Dutch Robbins, performed a flag folding ceremony at the Veteran's Memorial at the Cherokee Courthouse for Martha and her husband, Don Avis.

Dickie's flag was folded with the traditional military style, and presented to Martha, bringing Dickie's and his family's journey one step closer to finally being over.

Epilogue :

"The 6th Marine Division on Okinawa" was a 1945 Academy Award nominated color documentary film about the action of its 6th Division during the Battle of Okinawa. The film was released shortly after the event.

The film begins by outlining the strategic and psychological importance of Okinawa, including its use as a supply base for Japanese forces in Malaya, the Marianas and the Philippines, as well as a "choke hold" over China. It also informs the audience that Okinawa is an actual part of the Japanese homeland, only a few hundred miles from Kyushu.

The movements of the units and their order of battle are carefully traced, from the landings on April first to the assault on Naha. Some interesting footage is also shown on life in northern Okinawa soon after liberation, with the locals setting up a democratic government under the US military and opening up schools while the battle raging in the south.

Some of the more spectacular moments in the film include footage of the use of flame-throwing tanks and close air support in an attempt to dislodge heavily dug-in Japanese defenders. The film ends with a eulogy for all those who died attempting to secure the island, as Marines visit a gigantic graveyard prior to departing for their next objective.

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