By Kevin M. Hymel, ANC Contract Historian
Brothers Peter and Robert Esmay never knew their uncles Myles and Gardner Esmay, both of whom died in service to their country during World War II. Myles Esmay died fighting with the U.S. Army to capture the town of Myitkyina in Burma on June 7, 1944. Almost a year later, Gardner Esmay died aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill when two suicide kamikaze aircraft struck on May 11, 1945. Their brother Irwin Esmay, who witnessed the attack on the Bunker Hill as a sailor on another ship, survived the war and returned home to father five children, two of whom were Peter and Robert.
Gardner Esmay was buried at sea. Yet, Myles Esmay, a lieutenant with the 236th Engineer Combat Battalion, was never found; he was buried as an unknown for decades. On April 15, 2019, members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) disinterred a set of remains suspected to be those of Myles Esmay. Once the remains were identified, family members were contacted and Lt. Esmay was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on August 1, 2022, 78 years after his death.
At the funeral service, Peter Esmay stood up and faced those attending. “This is not a time for mourning but for celebration,” he said. “I want to celebrate, honor, and remember.” He was grateful that the event had brought his family together, and he listed several of the attendees and from where they came. He also thanked the U.S. Army “for this incredible event.”
“Three brothers went to war and two didn’t make it back,” said Robert Esmay after the service. “That’s the Esmays. That’s their story.” Reflecting on his uncle Myles, he explained, “The big story is that he got married soon before he left and didn’t make it back.” Robert remembered his amazement when he learned that his uncle had been identified. When the Army representatives asked him and Peter where they wanted Myles to be buried, he did not hesitate: “I said, right away, ‘Arlington.’”
Both brothers were impressed with the funeral service. “It meant everything to me,” said Peter. “It’s just the culmination of this search for his identity.” Robert felt very much the same. “I think it’s amazing that this was done,” he said while gesturing at Myles’ casket, which had a set of dog tags dangling from one of the handles.
During the service, Army Chaplain (Capt.) Brady Feltz, told the relatives that a burial at ANC is a special event. “No place here can be bought,” he said; “it must be earned.” He concluded his remarks by quoting the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Creed: “We will never leave a fallen comrade.” He added, “Some eighty years later, this promise has been kept.”