The family of a World War II veteran who went missing while fighting in Germany 75 years go invites other local veterans and residents to celebrate his life in Prestonsburg this week.
The remains of WW II veteran Jacob Whitney Givens arrived in Lexington on Nov. 1 and a convoy of veteran organizations, law enforcement agencies and fire departments brought him to Floyd County, where his remains will be buried this week.
Givens’ granddaughter Judi Calhoun said that at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8, a motorcade will transport him from Hall Funeral Home in Martin to Fitzpatrick Baptist Church on the Big Branch of Abbott. There, the family will welcome friends for visitation from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday.
A celebration of life is scheduled to begin at noon on Saturday, Nov. 9, at the church. Burial will follow in the McDowell Family Cemetery, Prestonsburg.
Nathan Sesco of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3769 in Pikeville, who also serves as the organization’s state judge advocate, said veterans groups will come from all over the state to be part of the motorcade that honors Givens. He and other local officials have been working to organize Givens’ return to Kentucky.
“I think there’s only been 12 to 13 in the whole state brought back,” Sesco said. “I think there was three Korean vets, one during the exchange that we had with Korea, with North Korea recently. So, it’s really big deal to have this happening. If you think about 70-some people coming back from Korea over the whole U.S. and we’re getting one from Germany whose daughter is 84 years old. It’s a pretty big deal, especially for Eastern Kentucky and especially for Floyd County.”
Givens’ family is thankful for the opportunity to bury him in the family cemetery. His only daughter, Zelma Givens McDowell of Prestonsburg, was eight years old when he went missing. She will celebrate her 84th birthday on Nov. 12, a few days after her father’s funeral.
“It’s a blessing beyond measure that you would get to, first of all, have the information as to what happened and where it happened and how it happened. That’s information that my mother never had. Her mother never had. They never knew what happened,” Calhoun said.
Givens was about 30 years old when he entered the army from Fort Thomas in Newport. He was assigned to K Company, 3rd Battalion in the 60th Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 9th Infantry Division.
The Department of Defense reported in a press release that in Oct. 1944, Givens’ company was engaged in battle against enemy forces in the Raffelsbrand sector of the Hürtgen Forest, near Germeter, Germany.
“He was reported missing in action as of Oct. 20, 1944, when his company reorganized after a severe counterattack and he could not be accounted for,” the press release said. According to his obituary, he was officially declared Missing in Action the following year.
His remains were identified on June 17, the Department of Defense reported.
Calhoun said the identification of Givens will give her family closure.
“They never knew, so just to have the closure, and then, just to get to bring him home and pay our respects and let everyone else pay their respects and then get to take him to our family cemetery to lay him to rest where we can pay him respect every Veterans Day and his birthday and all the times of the year that you pay respect because we’ve never had anything where we live for him,” Calhoun said.
She commended the military for identifying her grandfather’s remains and providing information about his death to the family.
“We are amazed that they are still looking for these men who sacrificed everything for our country and sending them to their loved ones,” Calhoun said.
She said her grandfather’s remains were found by a German woodcutter and later identified by the military through DNA and dental records.
She said military officials contacted the family in April and the following month, they called back wanting to meet with the family. They provided the family booklets that share information about Givens and his military service.
“They did a briefing with us, I think it was July 28, that lasted about three hours, and they told us everything from where he was, what he was doing, what they were trying to do, the strategy that they were using, why he was where he was. Everything surrounding the battle, what took place, and then they told us what the medical examiner found and how they identified him. It was about a three-hour briefing,” she said. “And then they told us we could bury him in Arlington, if we wanted to bury him in Arlington, or we could bring him here. They told us we could do whatever we wanted to do, and we wanted to bring him home. My mom wanted him. She said, well, I haven’t had him in 75 years, I’d like to have him here.”
Calhoun invites the public to celebrate her grandfather’s life at the funeral.
“We just feel very blessed and we’re very thankful. We see it as a celebration for all of our veterans. It’s not just for our family. It’s a celebration for all of our veterans. That’s why we’re having it on Veteran’s Day weekend,” she said. “There are so many families that are like my mother and her mother and their family. They lost their loved one. Her mother lost her husband and she lost her father. The sacrifice that they made for our freedom — We get to live in a country where we are free to worship and we are free to work as we want and live as we want. There is no higher sacrifice you could make, and there are many, many families that gave that sacrifice. There’s many men like my grandfather who gave the ultimate sacrifice. ... So, this is a celebration for all those who lost their loved ones and for all those veterans who endured what they endured for us to have our freedom.”