Memorial crosses in Hampton honor wartime bond

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Two men who fought together in World War II, and never saw each other again, are now and forever side by side in Henry County.

For Linda Hutchison of Hampton, bringing her late father back together with his former Army buddy was a labor of love.

Memorial crosses in Hampton honor war buddies, Charles K. Luke and J.F. Fussell. Special photo

Hutchison’s dad, Army Sgt. Charles K. Luke, served on the front lines in Germany under General George S. Patton in the 94th Infantry Division. Along the way, Luke built a friendship with Sgt. J.F. “Harold” Fussell. Together, they built a bond that would carry them through the throes of war.

Hutchison recently paid homage to the two men’s friendship by posting a cross with Fussell’s name on it, right next to the one dedicated to her father in downtown Hampton. She did so as a surprise for Fussell’s granddaughter, Chris Edens of The Woodlands, Texas, whom Hutch-ison met online two years ago.

“I thought about the idea of putting the two crosses together about eight months ago,” said Hutchison. “Since the two of them, my daddy and Mr. Fussell, never touched base with each other again after the war, and they have both since passed, I thought it would be nice to have their names next to one another in life, and to especially surprise Chris and her family with a memorial to both of these men who, so to speak, ‘always had each other’s back.’”

Fussell passed away in June of 2014. When Edens searched online for information about Luke the following year, she discovered he, too, had passed away.

After finding Hutchison’s name in Luke’s obituary and tracking her down through Facebook, Hutchison said, the two ladies met online and have been building a friendship of their own ever since.

“Chris had been so sweet as to look up my daddy only to find his obituary and my name listed as his daughter,” said Hutchison. “From that, she found me through social media, and since then our lives have touched in various ways.”

Hutchison said Fussell, shortly before his passing, preserved his military memories on a tape recorder, mentioning Luke’s name twice in the process. The tape, Hutchison explained, chronicles the time that Fussell and Luke spent together in the service -- from boot camp through the war itself.

“They both made it back home but never saw each other again,” said Luke. “Chris said that anything I heard on the tape would be my daddy’s story as well since they had been side by side.

“My daddy always told me a story about a man who had been shot in the helmet and the bullet traveled around the helmet and out the back never injuring the man,” continued Hutchison. “It was about the only story he ever talked about, and he told it over and over. I never knew anything about the man or his name, but when I was listening to Mr. Fussell’s story, he talked about how he was once shot in the helmet and the bullet traveled out the helmet. It honestly brought tears to my eyes to think about my daddy’s story and who this person really was -- two young men not more than 18 or 19 years of age.”

Edens said it took a long time before her grandfather, who received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service, was ready to talk about his time in the war. Still, she said, Luke figured heavily into the stories that Fussell did share with her.

“It’s an awful situation to become friends in, but it sounds like they were just such good friends,” said Edens.

She said although she misses her grandfather, her friendship with Hutchison has enabled them both to honor the memory of the men they loved.

“The Internet’s such a great thing,” said Edens. “If we didn’t have this, I probably wouldn’t have been able to put this together for PaPa and Mr. Luke. It’s just awesome to have a new friend. PaPa always told funny stories about Mr. Luke. We bond over that. She loves her daddy and I love my PaPa, and we’re both so proud of their service. Military service means something to us.”

Edens became emotional when reflecting on Hutchison’s gesture of erecting the cross bearing Fussell’s name.

“I love small towns that do these things,” said Edens through tears. “She moved her dad’s cross to where my PaPa’s cross is so that they could be together. These two men had a bond, and she’s keeping that bond close. Us remembering them keeps it close.”

In the two years since Hutchison and Edens met online, their lives have intertwined in ways they likely never imagined. As an example, Hutchison pointed to flooding that hit parts of Louisiana last year.

“When the city of Hampton took water and supplies to Louisiana after the [flood], we learned that one of Chris’s uncles lives in the town where we took the water,” said Hutchison. “We have also learned that the Fussells have family in Griffin and we hope they will be able to visit Hampton and see the crosses.”

Hutchison and Edens are each thankful for the chance to build on the friendship which Sgts. Luke and Fussell formed decades ago. Hutchison added that there is a lesson that can be gleaned from their newfound bond.

“In the big scheme of things, it is a small world, and lives are brought together in various ways,” said Hutchison. “I truly believe that we meet no one by accident. There is a larger plan, I know, for my life and I believe it is for everyone.”