ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- For Michael Arbuckle of Fort Worth, there’s no man who quite compares to his grandfather, World War II Veteran Private First Class Charlie McCright. He served as a machine gunner in the European theater and passed away in 2000. Buried next to his wife at the Elmwood Memorial Park in Abilene, Arbuckle says there’s something important missing from his great grandfather’s burial site.
“I can remember sitting in the lap of a man that fought the Nazis… I mean, I can’t say it enough. That was like a superhero on two legs,” Arbuckle recalled.
Arbuckle was just 18 years old when his great grandfather passed away. Although they had little time together, Arbuckle told KTAB/KRBC the impact McCright made on his life has shaped the man he is every day.
“We all called him ‘Papa Charlie,’ and I mean, the man was larger than life,” illustrated Arbuckle.
So, imagine Arbuckle’s surprise when a daily chore like cleaning out his garage unearthed a bronze headstone that was meant to be placed on Papa Charlie’s grave. Arbuckle said he found that the bronze plate had been in the family for two decades, and he had inherited it when McCright’s youngest, Arbuckle’s grandmother, passed away.
“I pick up a box, and I’m like, ‘this box is heavy,'” Arbuckle remembered.”And sure enough… That’s my great grandfather’s headstone, and I’m like, ‘why I have my great grandfather’s headstone?'”
In fact, McCright’s ceremony was devoid of military honors of any kind. Arbuckle said no one alive today knows why that happened, given that McCright was honorably discharged upon leaving the Army. This fact didn’t sit well with Arbuckle.
“To know that he left his wife, went to France, fought, and was lucky enough to be able to come home; it’s a kick in the pants when it’s Memorial Day, and he doesn’t get a wreath or a flag because nobody knows,” advocated Arbuckle.
That’s why Arbuckle said he’s begun raising money to get the bronze plate encased in granite and work with the Elmwood Memorial Park to get it placed where it was meant to rest. Elmwood’s staff and Abilene’s military community has been a great help, Arbuckle said, in his quest to honor his great-grandfather.
“We’re gonna get there and I’m not gonna let it go until those are at the feet of my great grandfather,” Arbuckle stood his ground.
The proud great-grandson has even taken it a step further. Arbuckle said he plans to make a full dedication with military honors at which the whole family, including McCright’s now four generations of grandchildren, will be in attendance. It’s a ceremony he hopes Papa Charlie would appreciate.
To the contrary, Arbuckle argued, “I also knew the man, he didn’t like to have anybody fussing over him. So, one hand, he’d probably be really ecstatic, and the other hand, he’d probably be like, ‘Michael, why are you causing such a fuss?'”
Like it or not, a fuss will be made, and tears will be shed. For this, Arbuckle said he’s ready. This final honor, he hopes to give in memory of the sacrifice his great grandfather made and to reaffirm his value in the eyes of those who he never got to meet.
KTAB/KRBC asked, “What’s it going to mean to you to see that footstone there?”
Arbuckle responded, “You’ll see a 6-foot 200-pound bearded man cry… For me, I lost one of the greatest men I’d ever known in my life and now it will be tears not of sadness but of joy… It would mean so much to me, my family, and so much to Charlie as well, that people still remember what he fought for.”
At the time of publishing, Arbuckle said he was just about $1,000 short of his goal to cover the cost of encasing, shipping, and installing the footstone. Any excess funds they might receive will be donated to the Wounded Warriors Project in memory of PFC McCright, Arbuckle promised. He also invites any and all who would like to attend the dedication ceremony, which they plan to hold sometime this coming spring.
Shortly after this article was published, Elmwood Memorial Park contacted Arbuckle and offered to cover all costs of encasing the Bronze headstone in granite and getting it installed. A nearly $1,500 process.
The office of Representative Jodey Arrington has reached out and offered to help find all military records for PFC McCright. This would enable the family to better understand his role in the war. Previously, they only knew stories that were passed down through word of mouth and Arbuckle said they would like to know more about his actual service.