BY LEANN DILBECK –
Little did a hunter who stumbled across some medals in the woods know that when he entrusted them to the care of Beasley-Wood Funeral Home that he would be reuniting and bringing closure to a family and a long lost love. The Pulse first picked up the story of Petty Officer Robert Roland Williford, Motor Machinist Mate 3rd Class and asked its readers to help in locating family in an effort to reunite his medals to them. And according to Capt. Mark Taylor, as of Saturday, November 2, that mission is complete.
Williford’s five medals, including the Purple Heart, which is awarded for “unusual gallantry” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service,” along with his Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the WWII Navy Good Conduct Medal, and the American Campaign Medal were returned by Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) after the Iron Horse Express was dispatched following a local memorial service given by Beasley-Wood, at which time, the medals were entrusted to PGR Arkansas State Captain and fellow submarine veteran Mark Taylor.
Taylor skillfully made arrangements with fellow PGR members in multiple states to orchestrate that every leg of the journey was done in a dignified manner as the Iron Horse Express transferred the case to who was determined to be the closest living relative, Wayne Williford, a nephew, who was 9 when his uncle perished at sea. Now 77, Wayne Williford told The Pulse, “those medals would mean a lot to me and the other family that are still here in Cortez, Colo.”
The following update was received by PGR Rick Romero as he reported MISSION COMPLETE: “New Mexico PGR members traveled from Albuquerque, to Cortez, Colo., on a cold morning with stops in Cuba and Farmington, New Mexico. The procession included seven motorcycles and three vehicles carrying 14 New Mexico PGR members.
“Upon arrival to American Legion Post 75 in Cortez, we were greeted by 14 members of Colorado PGR lining the room with flags, a room full of Legionnaires, and citizens of Cortez along with the family of MM3 Robert Williford.
A beautiful full honors ceremony was performed by the American Legion Post 75 Honor Guard culminating with the presentation of the special package to the family. Afterward’s while socializing with the attendees, a special moment occurred when an elderly lady came forward and introduced herself as Mrs. Esther Reed. Mrs. Reed had just heard of the day’s ceremony the previous night and decided to come forward with her story. She stated that she and MM3 Robert Williford were engaged to be married when he was deployed and that he was the “love of her life.”
Many other stories were told and it was obvious that this journey which began in Mena, Ark. to bring the special artifacts home was a success. “Welcome Home” MM3 Robert Williford, thank you Arkansas PGR and the town of Mena for allowing us to be a part of this story. MISSION COMPLETED.”
Taylor commended Beasley-Wood Funeral Home for the interest they took in not only returning the medals to the family but the dignified service that was provided. Taylor credited Pulse readers for their interest in the story that ultimately produced the leads that lead to the reunion. He also commended his fellow patriots of the PGR who returned the medals via the Iron Horse Express. “It’s the most memorable moment I have witnessed since I joined in 2006 and I can assure you I’ve had some hard memories in that time (as a fellow submarine veteran). I only wish I could have been in Cortez to witness it all.” Taylor added, “Can’t thank you enough. Just always remember Robert and his 77 shipmates forever entombed to the deep, and the 3505 brave men who rode their boats to the bottom during WWII.”
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