On a picturesque country hillside just outside of Mound City, fresh soil that does not yet grow grass indicates a newly dug grave in the cemetery called Mount Hope. The grave is that of Wilbur Francis Newton, buried there on Memorial Day weekend, May 28, 2022. Newton served in the Navy and was killed when his ship was bombed. His ship was the USS Oklahoma, which was attacked in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Many military markers in the cemetery, including a large veterans’ memorial and tombstones, reference military service. Many of Newton’s Holt County brethren returned home from World War II and lived another 50 years or more there. Newton joins them now in their final resting place.
In 1944 unidentified bodies were moved from inside the ship and put in a mass grave site in Honolulu. In 2015 the Navy set up a task force to identify the remains of those in the mass grave site because the grave site was going to be moved to a different island. The Navy identified the remains of 361 servicemen, and 35 have not been identified. The families of the men who have been identified were given options for burial with full military honors as if they had just died recently.
The decision of where to bury Newton came down to the oldest of his closest surviving relatives: Ed Deeds. Deeds will be 90 this year and has challenges that come with age but was able to meet with the officials from the Navy.
“Uncle Ed rose to the occasion,” Linda Deeds said.
“The people from the Navy explained that Wilbur could be buried in Hawaii or a military cemetery like Arlington, or he could be brought back
here. Uncle Ed said, ‘All those boys ever talked about was getting home. Wilbur will be buried at home.’”
Linda Deeds learned that home for the Newtons wasn’t Bird City, Kansas, where Wilbur’s grandparents are buried. Instead, it was Mound City, Missouri, where Wilbur’s parents and sisters were buried. She also learned they were all Mound City UMC members and wondered if it remained. She was excited to find that there is still a Methodist church in Mound City, even in the same building the Newtons’ worshipped in the early 20th century. She also learned there was a tombstone in the cemetery with Wilbur’s name on it and an empty burial plot there for him.
The casket bearing Newton’s body was received from the plane at Kansas City in the same manner as a soldier who had just been killed in war.
The funeral was held at the United Methodist Church in Mound City, where Newton and his siblings were baptized and were members. Jacob Brubaker, a United Methodist lay servant from Bird City, Kansas, officiated the service. Brubaker’s grandmother on his father’s side was Wilbur Newton’s cousin. He didn’t know he had a cousin who was killed in Pearl Harbor before his Aunt Jane Perkins, started working with the Navy to help identify the remains and make arrangements for the funeral.
Brubaker, age 25, took his first introduction to lay speaking class just before the pandemic started. Newton’s was his third funeral; he also officiated his grandfather’s funeral and one for a family friend. It was different preparing a service for someone he didn’t know.
“Aunt Jane did a great job supplying me with background information, like him working for the local newspaper, the CCC and the WPA before
he was in the Navy,” Brubaker said. “I also injected the same elements and respects I would give for any veteran, drawing upon verses in the Bible that tell of people making similar sacrifices. I was trying to bring a feeling of solace to everyone in the family.”
The church service was a full house of around 150 people. Stan Rippy, a member of Mound City UMC, transported the casket from the church to the cemetery with his horse-drawn wagon.
Brubaker was impressed at how the people of Mound City lined the streets for the funeral procession. The graveside service was a large crowd.
“There might have been 500 folks out there,” Brubaker said. “I about had to shout for that service, and I’m not sure everyone could hear me even then.”