Friday, June 19, 2015

Patsy Skirven Reihl Tells of Emotional Journey to Uncle's Grave

North Africa American Cemetery. Image courtesy of

 An often undiscussed aspect of World War II is the large number of American soldiers buried overseas because their bodies could not be returned to the United States. We interviewed Patsy Skirven Reihl who was directly affected by this harsh reality along with so many other families from that time period.  Her uncle, Preston Ashley, lived on a farm near Rock Hall in Kent County.  As the youngest brother in the family he was not exempt from service and after completing basic training in England was sent to join American forces during the invasion of North Africa. 
According to Patsy, Preston sent the family postcards that indicated he was in action around Libya.  Several months after his last postcard, however, Patsy’s grandmother received a call from the U.S. Army informing her that Preston had been killed in action in Tunisia.  The army told Patsy’s grandmother that they would try to return the Preston’s body to her but she never heard back.  Like thousands of other fallen American soldiers, Preston had been buried overseas in an American military cemetery, this one in Tunisia. 
Civil unrest in Tunisia made it particularly difficult for anyone from Patsy’s family to visit the grave.  However, later in life, Patsy decided she would make the trip to Tunisia to pay her respects to her fallen uncle on behalf of the entire family.  After a year of logistical troubles, Patsy and her wife departed on a cruise from Europe that would dock in Tunisia for just one day.  At the dock they were met by the head of the cemetery who drove them through the war torn areas to reach the grave.  Patsy described the trip through Tunisia and finally arriving at the cemetery: “As you rode out there it was a terrible place, just trash and junk. Then you open the gate and it was paradise. There were flowers and fountains. It was beautiful.”
Elijah, Patsy, and Joe.
Patsy’s long and emotionally trying journey to find her uncle’s grave was a powerful story and we were grateful she felt comfortable enough to share such a personal experience with us. The affect the war had on families sometimes goes overlooked when studying World War II which is why we were honored to help bring one of those stories to light. 

--Joseph Swit

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