[Today’s post comes from Rod Ross, an archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives. While researchers come to Rod every day to learn from his knowledge of congressional records, he recently had to consult an Archives colleague for an unusual task outside the office.]
Sometime in 2014—because Arlington National Cemetery has a substantial backlog, causing delays of eight or nine months—I expect to attend a funeral of someone I barely knew in life, Odis Frederick Quick (1916–2013).
I live in an apartment house in Southwest Washington, DC. Not long ago, I received an email asking me if I knew Odis Quick, who “lives or lived” in the building. The writer was renting an apartment in the coop but wanted to buy. She had seen mail piled up in front of a unit and wondered if it might be available.
On Saturday, August 17, I asked at the front desk if they knew the status of the Quick apartment. The woman there did indeed know.
Odis Quick had died in a hospice in mid-May, and his body had been taken to a funeral home, where it remained. Mid-May to mid-August—that’s unbelievable, I thought. The woman at the desk said that a fellow resident in my building, Bob McIntosh, had been with Odis in the hospice when Odis died and knew the story.
Bob told me how in the weeks before Odis died, Odis had tried in vain to contact his only known relatives, his late brother’s wife and their daughter. Bob hadn’t been any more successful in the weeks and months after Odis’s death in reaching a next of kin, or for that matter any kin. Bob told me the name of the funeral home: Cunningham Funeral Home in Alexandria, VA, and I called them to confirm what I had heard.
Bob told me that Odis had served in the Army in World War II. That being the case, I wondered whether my friend Bill Seibert, who is Chief of Archival Operations at the National Archives in St. Louis, would be able to supply needed documentation to satisfy the Veterans Administration so as to qualify Odis for a military burial. With information for date of birth supplied by the funeral home’s manager, Bob McCollum, I called Bill.
By day’s end, Bill had faxed me the appropriate paperwork to prove to the VA that Odis was entitled to veteran’s funeral benefits.
In his form letter to me, Bill explained that the records needed to answer my inquiry were no longer in files held by the National Archives, due to a fire in 1973 that had destroyed a major portion of records of Army military personnel for the period 1912 through 1959. But through alternative records sources, the National Archives had been able to provide a partial reconstruction of Odis’s service record.
For Odis Frederick Quick, the needed documentation was there: a college-educated African American from North Carolina, married with a wife in Washington, who in 1942 was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
On August 21 I did something that I still can’t believe I did. I signed off on documents for Odis to be cremated. I did a double-take when I saw that Bob McCollom had written “Friend” in the appropriate blank. The truth is that I barely knew Odis, and I told Bob. In turn, Bob pointed out that even if I hadn’t been Odis’s friend in life, I was in death.
In considering the burial options, we both agreed that Arlington National Cemetery, with Odis receiving a 21-gun military send-off, was the most appropriate. The plan is for a funeral service in the chapel of nearby Fort Myer, and then the urn with Odis’s ashes will be taken to the Arlington columbarium.
Before heading to Alexandria for my visit to Cunningham’s, I stopped by to see my friend Miriam Kleiman, in the public affairs office at the National Archives. Miriam jokingly asked if I was trying to perform a mitzvah in preparation for the coming High Holidays. While that wasn’t the case, at Friday’s services at the Historic Sixth and I Synagogue, I rose to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for Odis.
It has been a remarkable week.
Learn more about . . .
- Reconstructing records damaged by the 1973 fire: http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=12521
- Bill Seibert and Marta O’Neill’s Prologue article about the 1973 fire and its effects: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2013/spring/stl-fire.pdf
- Military service records held in St Louis records: http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=10598