Canton man says farewell to father he never knew
Canton man says farewell to father he never knew
CANTON, Ohio – Rex Beach was recently asked who’d be coming to the funeral and burial of his father, who left his son 65 years ago and never returned.
Beach paused before answering, knowing that most of his parents’ relatives had died, and he had no brothers or sisters.
Perhaps he thought about his own search that in 2011 led to an anonymous grave in Texas where his father William, a World War II veteran, was buried.
Then he brightened. Who’d come? He smiled, and said, “My father.”
That’s all that mattered to Beach, 66, of Canton, in honoring the father he never knew.
But they were not alone today for services at Canton’s First Church of the Nazarene, and burial at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville.
Some 18 people – friends, co-workers, fellow church members among them – joined Beach for a final salute to the man who abandoned him.
“This is an amazing story,” Dawn Dubose, of Canton, said. “He was so excited when he discovered where his father was.”
Beach’s parents, William and Helen Beach, were married in 1949. He had been a member of the Army Air Forces and served in England. She was a Navy nurse.
Beach said his mother never talked much about his father after they separated or divorced in 1954. Nor could he get much information out of the family relatives.
His father – who Beach later discovered was also abandoned as a young child by his father – remained a mystery for most of Beach’s life.
After his own divorce in 2010, Beach decided to find an answer as to what happened to his father.
He discovered that his father had worked at 86 different jobs in 15 states over the years.
He also eventually learned that his father had died in 1999 of throat cancer in Texas, and was buried in a grave marked only by a spike topped with a case number.
Beach spent seven years improving his credit rating so he could get a $10,000 loan to have his father brought to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery, where Beach’s mother is buried.
Prior to the memorial service he greeted guests at the church, telling Jerry Beach (no relation) and his sister Anne Barnes, both of Canton, that “it’s been an interesting ride.”
Barnes said they came to the service because, “We just wanted to pay our respects to another Beach.”
Her brother noted that they also lost their father, who died when they were very young children. “So we grew up fatherless, too,” he said.
Rex Beach had mixed emotions about his father on that day.
“Just knowing he’s a couple feet away, being by his casket, means a lot,” he said. “Everything I’ve always dreamed of, has all come true.”
On the other hand, he said that in a way, he’d soon have to lose his father all over again at the burial.
“Granted, I’ll be able to know where he’s at this time, and I’ll be able to visit him,” he said. “But it’s not quite the same as being around him.”
During the memorial service, he explained why he went to the effort and cost of bringing his father back to Ohio.
One reason was represented by the only photo that he had of himself as a baby with his father. The photo, Beach said, showed “that my dad loved me and was happy for me.”
Another reason was how his father unintentionally showed what not to do when Beach got divorced.
“Knowing what happens to a child without a father, I refused to walk away or give up on my two precious daughters,” he said.
A third reason was finding God, and being able to forgive both of his parents.
Dan Hanson, church pastor, told the guests, “I’ve been involved in many memorial services, but none quite like this. You really can’t make a story like this up.”
He said Beach’s effort provided important lessons in forgiveness and honor.
“Thank you, Rex, for never giving up,” he added. “Today is happening because you did not give up, and that may be the greatest lesson for us all.”
Seven veterans of District Six of the Patriot Guard Riders also attended the service and burial.
“We’re out here in support of the veterans and their families,” said Dennis Hillberry. “It is our honor to do this, to show them respect for what they’ve done.”
Beach and the other guests gathered in an open, wind-swept pavilion for full military honors at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.
This included an honor guard’s rifle salute, a trumpeter playing taps, and presentation of the folded American flag that covered his father’s casket.
Beach clutched the flag to his chest, taking deep breaths, blinking away tears.
Then, as the service ended, he stood, walked to the casket, leaned against it and sobbed.
It was, as he later remarked, a day well worth waiting for.
“It’s sort of a sense of relief, peace,” he said. “Finally, he’s going to rest in peace the way he should have been treated – with honor and respect.”
As wisps of his white hair billowed in the swirling snow, he added, “I don’t want to leave him, obviously, but I have to let him go.
“But this time, it’s not like the last time. This time it’s on my terms,” he added. “I know where he’ll be, and I can visit him, and so that kind of helps.”