ROCKINGHAM — In honor of hometown, family and veterans, Tommy Easterling is making a special tribute to celebrate Memorial Day this year. He will be flying the flag of his late uncle, fallen soldier Archie Easterling, for the first time.
Archie Easterling was a Roberdel native, who attended Rockingham High School. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 when he was 25 years old. He was killed on Jan. 22, 1944 while serving on the USS LST 348 at Anzio beach landing in Italy.
“That was a tank and transport equipment hauling ship,” said Tommy Easterling. “The front of those ships opened up and tanks rolled off. They were among the first to go in. That ship actually took a hit and sank off the coast of Italy later.”
Anzio beach was Archie Easterling’s third invasion. According to a shipmate who later contacted the family, Archie said, “If I die today, I die for my country.” After 10 months at sea, Easterling lost his life on the first day of a battle which took three months and three days.
The flag used at Easterling’s overseas burial service was sent to his wife, Ruth Cresman Easterling. The letter which came with the flag stated that it was “presented as a token of sympathy and appreciation of a grateful nation with the thought that it may prove to be of sentimental value to you.” The flag, and letters from Easterling’s time in the service, were kept in storage with various family members over the years.
Tommy Easterling recently came into possession of the flag and decided to do something special this Memorial Day.
This year, he will fly his uncle’s flag on Memorial Day “in honor of an uncle, a hero I never knew.” Adding to the sentiment is the fact that the flagpole was purchased from Roberdel School in 2011, and erected at the Easterling family homestead in Roberdel. Built in the 1930s, it was the childhood home of both Archie and Tommy.
“He was one of many who died, and they were all heroes,” said Easterling. “We read about what they, and all military service members, have gone through for freedoms we often take for granted. They paid a dear price. My daddy (Luther Easterling) was on the USS Savannah when it took a hit. He survived, but many did not. People have paid such a great price for our freedom, and I want to honor that.”
After the flag is flown Memorial Day, AMVETS post 316 member Dennis Holloway will assist to properly re-fold the flag so it can be framed and mounted for display.
“A proper flag has 13 folds,” said Holloway, who continues the tradition of recognizing fallen soldiers. “We need to recognize them because they made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Kelli Easterling Taylor is a former employee of the Richmond County Daily Journal.
A flag used in the overseas burial of Archie Easterling, a Roberdel native who was killed during World War II, flies at his family’s homestead for Memorial Day.