- Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 13:01
- Published on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 13:01
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Americans honored the country’s fallen on Memorial Day with a variety of events, from flag observances at cemeteries, to reading lists of the fallen, to parades and picnics. Among those honoring our nation’s heroes on this day was Mickey Beard of Colonial Beach, who lost her brother in the Philippines during World War II.
“I will never be able to do enough for my brother,” said Beard. “I was very young when he was gone. I miss him every day.”
On December 10, 2010, officers from Army Casualty came to Beard’s home to inform her that her brother, SSgt George L. Winkler, had been identified – 66 years after his B-25 bomber crashed in the Philippines. Winkler was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery in 2011.
Winkler, who was nine years older than Beard, was called “Rip” by his family and friends. He was killed in action in the Philippines after his plane crashed in a muddy swamp after being shot down on April 3, 1945. He was 23 years old and the father to an eight-month-old son.
Winkler and five other members of the crew of the B-25 from the 13th Air Force were flying close support for ground troops who were landing on the island of Cebu when their plane was hit by Japanese fire. One of the airmen survived for a day after being found by Filipino natives. He was identified was Lt. Willis Ehrhardt.
The rest of the crew were killed on impact, including Rip Winkler, who served as a gunner on the plane, usually operating twin .50 caliber Browning machine guns from the top turret. The plane’s wreckage and the bodies were strewn over a large area, and because of the war and the remoteness of the location, they were not recovered at the time of the crash.
The Winkler family was notified later by Western Union telegram that Rip Winkler was missing in action. It was the beginning of a years-long, long, agonizing wait for Mickey, her mother, Elizabeth, and brother, Buddy, and for Rip’s wife, Iris, and his son, Lance. A wait that did not end until six decades later, when Rip’s remains were identified.
“Since that time, I have continued to try to help others who still wait,” Beard said.
“Because I know from my own painful and sad experience of trying to find my brother and bring him home, I have become involved with WWII Families for the Return of the Missing.”
“They have recently started “Adopt a WWII MIA” and connected with a company that will make dog tags for a missing person. For my dog tags, I have my brother’s best friend who was killed one month later and never recovered,” Beard said. And, she has also become involved with Honor and Remember, which was formed when a father lost his son in Iraq and wanted to help others.
“They have designed a beautiful flag that can be requested for a fallen loved one.
In December, there was a ‘Gold Star Families’ banquet in Virginia Beach, and I was invited to attend to receive a flag for Rip. Unfortunately, an ice storm prevented me from being there.”
Instead, Rip’s flag was presented to her at an American Legion banquet held in connection with the Run for the Fallen, a four-day, 236-mile run from Ft. Story to Arlington National Cemetery to honor fallen war heroes. This year’s run was held May 1-4, and mile 142 (near Dahlgren) was dedicated to Staff Sergeant George Winkler.
“The flag had his name embroidered at the bottom. I cried; it was so emotional,” said Beard. Her search for her missing brother has ended, but she now has a new mission to help others locate their missing heroes and bring them home.