On January 30th, 1951, 1st Lt. Robert M. McGovern was killed in action in the Korean War, and eleven days later, his younger brother 2nd Lt. Francis Jerome McGovern also made the ultimate sacrifice in the far off hills of Korea. Bob was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart and Jerome the Silver Star and Purple Heart among numerous awards and citations . After a funeral Mass at St. Gabriel’s church, on November the 15th, the native Washingtonians were laid to rest side by side in Arlington National Cemetery.
St. John’s College High School’s McGovern Rifle Drill Team was named in their honor, and Camp McGovern in Korea, in the 60s, and later Camp McGovern in Bosnia was also named in honor of Bob. Eight years ago, on October 4th, Jerome’s 75th Birthday, I established the “McGovernBrothers.com” website in an attempt to keep their legacy alive.
On February 27th, 2012, some sixty years after the Korean war ended, I received an e-mail message from Ms. Marjie Neville of Rome, Georgia. She wanted to know if I was related to a Francis Jerome McGovern of Ft. Lewis, Washington. I answered in the affirmative, explaining that Jerome was my brother and had been in Ft. Lewis prior to his deployment to Korea in 1950. Ms. Neville explained that at one time, she had several horses and had an old footlocker that she used for tack that had the name Jerome, a series of numbers, and Ft. Lewis stenciled on it. I told her that Jerome had written from Ft. Lewis on September 7th, 1950, to inform the family that he had arranged for a corporal to see that his footlocker, containing some clothing, his ring, and some records were sent to us in Washington, DC, our home at the time. We never saw Jerome’s footlocker.
Ms. Neville, who no longer had the horses, decided to dispose of the footlocker at a yard sale but became intrigued with the name and decided to Google it. Her Internet search led her to the McGovern Brothers website, where she learned the story of Bob and Jerome. She said she was very excited to hear from a family member, and although the service numbers we provided didn’t quite match those on the footlocker, she felt convinced that it was indeed Jerome’s. She was kind enough to take several photos of the footlocker and e-mail them so I would see that it was still in pretty good condition. Ms. Neville went on to say that she was very interested in learning about the man who owned the footlocker and got cold chills when she read that Jerome died on February 10th as she was born 14 days later.
She said that she was a strong supporter of the military and would do her best to see that the footlocker was returned to the family without cost other than shipping expenses. She was even willing to keep it in storage until we could figure out the best way to retrieve it.
I learned later in a phone conversation with Ms. Neville that she had acquired the footlocker five or six years earlier from a friend. She filled him in on the McGovern brothers’ story only to learn that the person he’d gotten the footlocker from had died some time ago, so there is no way to find out how the footlocker ended up in her town.
I contacted the Rome newspaper several times, suggesting that they publish an article about Ms. Neville because I felt she was deserving of recognition for undertaking such a worthy project on her own, and also in the hope that it might attract the attention of others who would be able to provide additional information as to how the footlocker ended up in Georgia. While several of the newspaper staff seemed to agree with the idea, they have not followed through on the suggestion, so it still remains a real mystery.
Although Ms. Neville was more than willing to pack the footlocker, which weighed about 40 pounds, we finally agreed that it would be easier if she arranged for a local company to ship it. We did, of course, reimburse her the shipping expense plus a little extra to make up for what she may have received at a yard sale.
Thanks to Ms. Neville, her curiosity, and the Internet, the rusty old footlocker completed its 2690-mile, six decades odyssey on March 19th and is now with us here in Columbia, Maryland, as a lasting reminder of two gallant young men, Bob and Jerome McGovern who gave their all for their country.
Now, if only that footlocker could talk.