Dunkirk’s Raeymacker receives one final tribute
Moments before he died, U.S. Army Sgt. Gerald Raeymacker was scurrying on the battlefields, helping a wounded friend to safety in North Korea. It was a letter from fellow U.S. Army soldier Louis Reel that gave details to the Raeymacker family in 1953 on how their brother and son from Dunkirk died while serving his country.
Raeymacker’s sister, Kareen Briggs Simmons, read the correspondence during the eulogy toward the end of a Mass of Christian burial held at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on Central Avenue in the city on Saturday. That communication revealed the horrors and dangers of what her brother was facing in the Korean War.
“We were ambushed by the Chinese. … Frozen, Gerald insisted to help me,” Simmons read from the letter. “We started to make a break for it … with bullets flying all around us.”
At one point the men came upon some bales of hay. Raeymacker told his friend and fellow soldier he needed to rest. It was an unfortunate decision.
“We were both so tired,” Simmons read. “Suddenly, while sitting there I heard a crack and a bang. Gerald slumped down. Before his death, he asked me to bury him under the haystack. … He passed away in my arms so I buried my best buddy who I shall never forget since I owe my life for him.”
Family members never heard another word about Raeymacker until two months ago. That’s when they learned his remains had been located.
Raeymacker was a member of Battery B, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, 31st Regimental Combat Team. He was reported missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950, in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces. Following the battle, his remains could not be recovered.
On July 27, 2018, following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018, North Korea turned over 55 boxes, purported to contain the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War. The remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Aug. 1, 2018, and were subsequently accessioned into the laboratory for identification.
Before detailing the long wait for Raeymacker’s return, Simmons gave insight into Raeymacker’s younger years while growing up in Dunkirk. “I was only 9 years old, but I do remember the fun, loving brother he was.
“We played hide and seek, kick the can, baseball and lots of outside games. But don’t get me wrong he was very mischievous,” Simmons said, noting he was always protective of his sisters.
SFC William C. Shephard, casualty assistance officer, opened Saturday’s service. He had been working with the family to get Raeymacker’s remains from Hawaii to Dunkirk. They arrived in the city around 11:15 a.m. Thursday.
“This is the greatest honor I have ever had,” he said. “I can’t say much more I can say. So thank you for letting me be a part of this.”
The Rev. Daniel Walsh, pastor at Holy Trinity, led the service. “He went home 70 years ago and someday we too will be in that same home with Jesus, with Gerald, with his parents. … Heaven. Our true home.”
A procession followed on Central Avenue from the church to the cemetery where Donald Briggs, brother, received a U.S. flag and plaque from the Patriot Guard. Barney Kuzara played “Taps” during the ceremony that included full military honors.
The Sons of Liberty also participated in the procession and service at the cemetery. Also assisting were the Dunkirk Fire and Police departments.