After the end of World War II, the body of a 31-year-old Soldier was shipped home for burial.
Six and a half decades later, a teenager who never knew infantryman John Miller, who died in 1944 on a battlefield in France, is saluting Miller with a white wooden cross.
The teen didn’t know Airman 1st Class Jason Nathan either.
In June 2007, while on patrol aboard a Humvee in Iraq, the 22-year-old Nathan was killed in a roadside-bomb blast. Nathan was later buried in the same Macon cemetery as Miller.
The teen, Matthew Davis, is also honoring Nathan. With another cross.
Davis has built 50 of them. He is 17, about to become an Eagle Scout.
In a project to help him earn that distinction — and as a Memorial Day tribute — he is placing crosses at the graves of dozens of local veterans who were killed in action.
The crosses are 2-by-4s notched together. They’re 2 feet tall, 18 inches wide.
They’ll be tapped into the ground at Macon Memorial Park on the city’s west side, everywhere that cemetery’s known war dead are laid to rest.
“As I was building them, I thought about how once I set these crosses on these graves, it’s going to affect a whole lot more people than just one person,” Davis said. “It’s going to affect their whole families. And I’m honored to be able to do that and to reach out to them. Each cross signifies a dead soldier that gave his life for our country. That means a lot.”
Davis, the son of a dentist, is a rising senior at First Presbyterian Day School. He runs track and plays football and baseball.
“One of the reasons I think it’s good for me to be doing this is because I don’t have any immediate family in the military,” he said. “This is the least I can do.”
Dale Miller, the late Army Pfc. John Miller’s son, was born in 1941, five days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
He remembers his father’s funeral, how it sunk in that “my father was never coming home.”
Dale Miller, now 69, a graduate of Lanier High School, had considered joining the Navy. His mother wouldn’t hear of it.
The other day, the retired electrical engineer was asked what he thought about Davis’ putting a white cross on his father’s grave.
“I applaud him,” Dale Miller said. “For a young man to do that … it’s significant.”
Jason Nathan’s mother, Phyllis, also has heard about Davis’ project.
“I want to shake his hand,” she said. “Some children don’t realize what other people have done to make way for them. But this shows that there are some who are still getting it. They know how precious our freedom is.”
It so happens that Phyllis Nathan, 45, is a mail carrier. Her route runs through a stretch of eastern Bibb County. She delivers to the Boy Scout headquarters off Interstate 16.
A few days ago, she dropped by and picked out a gift for Davis, “just to say thank you.”
It is something made for Eagle Scouts: a disc-shaped pocketknife that resembles a thick coin.
She made sure Davis’ name was engraved on one side, between the wing tips of a great bird.