Remembering Mr. Myrl Billings

Honoring and remembering one of a multitude of USA citizens whose deeds and even their existence at one time is fading in the minds of the masses.

“A grave marker, flanked by both an American and French flag, rests in the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri. The name on the marker is Myrl Billings. Billings was a Springfield native African American who fought in World War I with the 369th Regiment of the New York National Guard. He was the only African American soldier from Springfield to receive the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action during World War I.”

Read more at —–>  Myrl Billings & The Harlem Hellfighters

HOORAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks to Google Books and the writers of the book; Missouri’s Black Heritage, I found the ONE picture of Myrl Billings revealed by a lengthy Web search. What a handsome young man!!!! He is the guy in the middle. I wish we knew the names of the two guys standing next to him.

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Myrl Billings

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I am guessing he was 19 or 20 in the picture. I was in the Navy at that age. I bet that the commonalities of the strangeness of military life resulted in similarities in our experiences despite the differences in army and navy lifestyles along with the many years’ difference between our lifetimes. Though things change some things remain the same… such as humans interacting with their environment, feeling fear, wonder, excitement and happiness.

Here is a video telling us about Mr. Billings:

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Certificate for Myrl Billings’ military medals

Billings

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Below is the Croix de Guerre  (Cross of War) awarded Mr. Billings for his bravery in World War One. Accounts are skimpy, as they are for so many individual soldiers of any era, but it appears Myrl Billings received one Croix de Guerre for his entire unit’s actions but was then awarded another for individual heroic action.

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Myrl Billings medals(Croix de Guerre front & rear view. Images from Missouri State University)

Searching the Web shows a few hits about Myrl Billings and a few pics but those pics were coded in a way I was unable to copy and paste them and the image search for Google and Bing did not find them.

I did find this brief mention at the Springfield History Museum site:

Myrl Billings who died in 1920 at age 23 from his World War I battlefield injuries.”

My dad was born in the 1920s. Maybe that 1920 death seems to be ancient history but for an Old Coot as I am I know that Myrl Billings was of the age to be my grand parent.

Our society and culture(s) change so quickly that decades can be more akin to centuries in some ways.

There is surely good and bad and in-between with our fast-paced modern world.

Modern technology is allowing me to place this mention of Mr. Mryl Billings on-line for others to observe so I consider that good!!!

He joins the other fellow who fought overseas that I told about—>  HERE

The Vietnam Veterans of America has named their Springfield, Missouri chapter office that assists all veterans with various veteran issues the Myrl Billings Memorial Veterans Center.

Their office moved recently to the old building across the street that houses several Greene County, MO offices.

Their address is:

Vietnam Veterans of America

940 Boonville Avenue

Room 023

Springfield, Missouri 65802

417-862-8387

The office is on the bottom floor in the north-west corner of the building. I have determined that parking on Boonville Avenue is often the best choice due to a space on the street often available. Parking there is close to the office… you can see their window from the street. You can also park on the south or east sides of the building and may have to if there is no parking on the west side. There is also parking at nearby public parking areas.

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After writing this blog entry I visited the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery written about in the Springfield News-Leader:

People come together to restore Springfield’s oldest African-American cemetery

July 09, 2011|Ashley Reynolds, KY3 News | areynolds@ky3.com

 SPRINGFIELD, Mo –People come together to restore Springfield’s oldest African-American cemetery.

 The Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is the oldest African-American cemetery in Springfield.

It opened in 1919 as a result of “separate but equal” laws.

 It’s a cemetery for several prominent African Americans, including veterans, ministers and educators, all from the Ozarks.

 Most of the more than 300 people that are buried in the cemetery are African Americans.

Court decisions in the mid-1950’s opened Lincoln Memorial to all races.

The Central High School Class of 1962 dedicated a flag pole to the cemetery.

People hope they can raise enough money to improve the the cemetery and get it listed as a historical site.

 “We would like to keep it going so our children and their children realize the sacrifices that these people made here for us,” said Shelia Burton with Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

 People with the Lincoln Memorial hope to improve the cemetery and put up a gate.

It was only three years ago that the cemetery got new ownership.

Lincoln Cemetary

The Lincoln Cemetery is small and Mr. Billing’s grave was easy to find. Here are some pictures I took while there. Feel free to copy and use them in any positive way. If you mention this blog entry and/or place a link that would be great. I just want to assist in keeping Myrl Billing’s name and deeds in the “public eye” and mind. Thank you!!!

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Here is the rear of the above monument:

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After taking the above pics I wandered the cemetery looking at the various gravestones. I saw a few that indicated the once-living person that stone represents were military veterans.

Well, with Memorial Day coming up I thought it would be proper to take some pictures of those folks who served the USA.

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After updating this post I am headed back to the graveyard with a plastic-bristle brush and a bucket of plain water and will try to clean the gravestones. No chemicals, soap, etc. to ensure I cause no damage. Hopefully the effort will make them more readable. And, with Memorial Day but four days away it would be nice if the stones looked better and to show that folks still care.

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There may be other military veterans resting in peace at the Lincoln Cemetery but are not shown as such on their gravestone. However, a salute to you and everybody else resting eternally. Assuredly every one of you was loved by somebody in the past or even today.

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Meanwhile, a salute to Mr. Myrl Billings who died too young. Let us remember him.

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And off I go… there’s some gravestones to scrub.

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Have a wonderful week folks!!!

*****UPDATE*****

Hello!!! It is Tuesday, May 28.  The stones were cleaned and when I returned on Sunday, May  26 to perform as an honor guard for the veterans for a few hours I saw that the grass had been mowed. The place looked nice.

No visitors to the cemetery on Sunday but the large USA flag atop the wooden pole I held was surely noticed by the ample traffic upon Chestnut Expressway.

Monday was Memorial Day. After attending the event at the Springfield National Cemetery next to Glenstone Avenue and Seminole Street I headed for the Lincoln cemetery and placed my nifty folding portable chair next to Myril Billings’ grave stone and hoisted the pole holding the USA flag.

It was a lovely day in regards to the weather. A brisk wind kept bugs away and made the not-too-hot and semi-humid conditions even more comfortable for a fellow exposed to the sun… though the cloud cover assisted in fending off extreme heat.

Folks came and went, visiting graves, placing flowers and the other things folks do when visiting the final resting place of a loved one, a relative or other reasons.

One of the other reasons was a guy wearing a World War One uniform!!! He was there to honor Mryl Billings and place a USA and a France flag in front of his tomb stone.

Fortune smiled upon those of us present when a distant relative of Mr. Billings and told us a little about his life and other aspects of the too-little time he was on this Earth.

Two members of the cemetery’s board of directors also arrived and shared even more information about Mr. Billings’ life, deeds, etc.

A few vehicles entered the cemetery and drove up to me and sated their curiosity of why I was there. I told them I was there to honor all the veterans buried there and especially to honor Mr. Billings… with his too-early death a major reason I selected to honor him via this blog entry and for being there in person on Memorial Day.

Most of those passers-by were veterans themselves and thought that honoring the veterans buried there was a fine thing to do. Most of those visitors had never heard of Mr. Billings or his deeds and were glad they now knew about him and that Springfield, Missouri is honored by being his final resting place.

I now extend a big “THANKS!!!” to everybody who stopped and shared information, to inquire about my presence and to bring a chair and sit beside me to also honor the veterans buried there.

I also want to thank the folks at the Missouri State University Duane G. Meyer Library and a special thanks to Anne Baker, an archivist in the Special Collections and Archives who retrieved information and items related to Mr. Myrl Billings.

It is with the utmost respect that I place here Mr. Billings’ death certificate. I do so for historical reasons. To assist in keeping alive his memory and what little we know about the time he graced the Earth with his presence and the effects he had here after his departure.

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Myrl Billings death certificate

One comment on “Remembering Mr. Myrl Billings

  1. Anne M. Baker says:

    Very nice, Mr. Kelley. I’m glad we could help. Anne Baker, Archivist, MSU

    Like

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