EVELETH — George McComesky was happy knowing he would see his Vietnam buddy of long ago, Carl Henry Martin of Florida, at a Marine Corps reunion in September. And McComesky looked forward to being the subject of a “We Salute” veterans feature in the Mesabi Daily News, when he would tell of his first day in Marine Corps boot camp, the battles where he saw men die, and the meeting planned with fellow Marines.
But the reunion in Branson, Mo., and the “We Salute” tribute were never to be. McComesky would die July 6, 2013, at age 69 of heart complications. And Martin would write in the Bauman Funeral Home online guestbook: “Rest in peace, my beloved friend,” signed “Semper Fi,” always faithful.
In an interview at the newspaper office, McComesky’s wife Diane McComesky showed a paper on which he had printed his “We Salute” responses. McComesky, a retired St. Louis County Sheriff’s deputy and Toledo, Ohio, native who lived south of Eveleth, had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at 17, serving 1962-69. He would take part in the naval blockade of Cuba in 1962 and serve as an instructor at Camp LeJeune, N.C., and Great Lakes, Ill. He would be an infantry sergeant in Vietnam 1966-67 and an inspector and instructor in Little Rock, Ark., 1968-69. And he had been decorated with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for battle wounds.
Following another veteran’s “We Salute” in the newspaper as a guideline, he had described his most humorous moment of military days: “My first day in boot camp. I didn’t know the terms used in the Marines yet. Examples a door is called a hatch and of course your weapon is called a rifle never a gun. I didn’t know your hat was called a cover so when our drill instructor yelled at us to get our covers and get outside in formation, young Pvt. McComesky grabbed his blankets and ran outside. The ensuing conversation cannot be printed, but as funny as everyone else thought it was, at the time I failed to see the humor. I know it started out with ‘Oh, she’s tired’ and ‘She’s got her blankies.’ It went downhill from there.”
McComesky had told of the most difficult time: “Obviously Vietnam. In C Company, 4th Marines, 1st Battalion. Participated in Operations Deckhouse VI and Desoto in Quang Nga, province outside Chu Lai, then went north to Quang Tri province at DMZ and participated in Operations Firebreak, Prairie III aand Beacon Hill. We lost several of our men during these operations and numerous wounded. These men become like brothers to you and you never forget them.”
For the “Buddies Remembered” section of “We Salute” he would write these words: “Some that I talk with fairly regularly are Lance Goss who lives in Colorado. Great Marine. Was on the Wasp as a PFC and later became a S/Sgt., then a warrant officer and retired as a CWO-4 after 24 years. S/Sgt. Dave Rider, Connecticut, sharpest and most ‘squared away’ Marine I ever served with. Lost a leg to a mine in Vietnam and had to retire on a medical. And Sgt. Carl Henry Martin, Tampa Bay, Fla., the absolute best combat Marine I served with, always knew what to do and was totally fearless. We have a reunion in Branson this September so I’ll be seeing many of the guys. Looking forward to it as we have a great time. George.”
Diane McComesky believes her husband had a premonition that death was imminent. “George started a journey in February 2013. He had talked to people he hadn’t talked to in years,” she said. “Since I’ve known him, he searched for a fellow, Carl Henry Martin, who served with him on March 24, 1967, the day George was critically wounded in battle. We had given up finding him, and then on Feb. 13 of this year, we received an email from him. I told him, ‘George, you’re not going to believe this.’ The next couple of weeks he had that email next to him. Even at the supper table, he’d read it and read it again. He was just so elated that they had reconnected and that Carl had made it out alive. That was part of the journey. He could feel peace.”
McComesky had also gotten in touch with fellow retired sheriff’s deputies. His wife said, “He had called Bill Hanegmon out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, Hanegmon, I love you.’” And a few days before he died he had said to his wife, “Princess, come sit down. I want to show you how to use the DVD and VCR.” Diane McComesky told him she didn’t want to learn it, that “we’ll just watch things together,” but he insisted.
A short time later George McComesky would enter a Duluth hospital to undergo heart surgery. He had suffered from complications of Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War, and from heart disease, Diane McComesky said. She remembered telling him at the hospital, “Honey, I’ll see you in a couple hours. Everything’s going to be OK.” He would look at her and say, “Goodbye, honey.” She told him, “We don’t say goodbye. Remember? We say, ‘I’ll see you later.’” George “just shut his eyes and smiled,” and she “just gave him a million kisses.” The doctor would tell her, “The George that we knew is gone. We have to let him go.” He would die with “a perfect smile on his lips, his last gift to me,” his wife said.
At his funeral Diane McComesky read a eulogy she had written for her husband of 24 years. In part it read: “He was a true American hero, a highly decorated Marine. He was very proud of his service, very proud of his accomplishments. He loved serving his country in the highest tradition. The Marine Corps is a brotherhood of the Few and the Proud. He kept in touch with his Marine Corps buddies and prayed daily for those that were lost in Vietnam during operations Deckhouse, Desoto, Firebreak, Prairie II and Beacon Hill. He deeply mourned them and never forgot them. One of our most emotional trips was to Washington D.C. to visit the Vietnam Wall. My heart broke for him.”
McComesky was laid to rest in the Makinen Cemetery, a peaceful country place he and Diane had visited every Memorial Day. Since his death nearly four months ago, she said she has “heard George talk to me but it’s in a different voice, like an angel voice,” she said. “The first time I went to the cemetery I brought some fresh flowers. The next day there was a butterfly sitting in these roses. It circled his grave and landed on my chest. I looked at it and said, ‘You came back in a butterfly.’” It strengthened “my belief in God even more,” she said. “I went to his grave and told him how much I loved him and missed him. The flag on his grave started waving in the breeze. I looked around ... and none of the other flags were flying. It was like he was telling me, ‘Honey, I’m OK.’”