EAST BEND — Following the death of her husband, one local woman has made it her mission to continue to honor his military service. In addition to photos and memorabilia throughout her home, a few weeks ago, Jean Hunter also completed an outdoor memorial with flags and statuary to honor her husband.
“Sometimes my grandchildren tell me ‘why do you want to keep doing this,’” Hunter said. “It’s because I want to keep his memory alive.”
Hunter met her husband, Charlie Ray Hunter, when he was stationed near her home town in Kentucky at Camp Breckenridge. The two met on Oct. 3, 1943, and knew right away it was true love, they were married a little more than a month later on Nov. 20, 1943. When he passed away last March at the age of 92, the couple had been married for 69 years and four months.
Hunter’s home is a testament to her enduring love for her late husband and the things he survived while serving in the armed forces during World War II.
In the front hallway of her home, Hunter has a display featuring her husband’s purple heart medal, a jar of sand from Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, where her husband served, and other special items that were presented to Hunter just before his death last year.
Charlie Ray Hunter was part of the second battalion, 331st infantry regiment, 83rd division of the United States Army. His division landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, on June 18 of 1944. On Aug. 7 of that year, he was hit by a mortar shell in the town of Sainteny, severely wounding his foot and leg. For the next two years and eight months, Hunter underwent several surgeries and rehabilitation to recover from his injuries.
Jean Hunter said that it was a difficult time for her while her husband was away at war and recovering from his injuries, but she was overjoyed when he was finally able to come home in April of 1947.
The couple both worked at R.J. Reynolds for 30 years. They have two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Hunter’s great-grandson Adam Gunnell said it felt good to know that his great-grandfather was a hero who helped to free to the world from its second world war.
In the front yard of the Hunter home, Jean Hunter has erected a memorial that reminds her daily of her husband’s bravery and service. She has created a bricked area in front of the home with two flag poles, one for the American flag and one for the Army flag. A statue of boots, gun and helmet represent Hunter’s military service, and a granite marker engraved with Hunter’s name, birth and death date, recognition of his purple heart and bronze star medals and the notation that he was a beloved husband.
Also in the memorial is a statue of a praying angel, a favorite icon of Charlie Ray Hunter’s, and a small bench with the message that sums up Jean Hunter’s deepest feelings as she continues to grieve over the loss of her husband, “if tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven and bring you home again.”
Hunter said that seeing his medals on display, favorite photos and the flags waving proudly in her front yard are all a part of honoring her husband’s memory.
“It keeps him alive,” Hunter said. “It keeps him alive and I know he’s still in this house. I can feel him in this house. He’s gone, but he actually has never left me. He’s still with me.”
Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.