A Family's Sacrifice
The Dr. Gerald Orken Family
Jewish Cemetery, aka Rosena Chapel or B'Nai Israel; Monroe, Louisiana
There is probably nothing more unsettling in a cemetery than discovering a family plot with several graves marked with identical or near identical death dates. The questions come: fire? Car accident? Murder (heaven forbid)? Jewish Cemetery is located in downtown Monroe, Louisiana. We visited it in my last blog. The plots are orderly and neat and is probably one of the best maintained cemeteries I've ever been in. No fire ants! I talked to the groundskeeper not too long ago about that and praised his attention. That's the day as I was photographing headstones when I took the above photo. It's a chest grabber...two adult graves with two little graves beside them. Death dates are one day apart. Dec. 17 and 18, 1953. Here's the story I found on the internet and help from a friend after running scenarios through my head. It is one of unusual and unfathomable sacrifice in service to one's country.
Dr. Maj. Gerald M. Orken was Major Gerald Arnold Orken, M. D., he and his family were asleep on December 17, 1953 in the officer's housing section of Andersen Air Force Base on the Marina Islands in Guam when a disabled Boeing B-29 crashed into their home and several others. Major Orken and daughter Vivian lived until the next day, but wife Shirley and son Stephen were instantly killed. The crash occurred at 6:45 in the morning during a storm, the B-29 was on a search for a missing weatherplane, the VJ-1/VW3. It had gone out on Dec. 16th on a low level typhoon penetration to get readings on the storm, Typhoon Doris. The weather plane was never found, however, the B-29 search plane made an emergency landing. The plane missed the runway and crashed into the housing area killing three crewmen, six military passengers on the plane and two officers, two wives and six children on the ground. [Thanks to Lee C. for this information].
Shirley Kaplan was a darling of Monroe society, 25 years old at the time of her death, she was the daughter of Monroe utilities commissioner David Kaplan, a Russian native, whose family settled in north Louisiana.
|Shirley Kaplan Orken|
|Dr. Gerald Arnold Orken|
On Memorial Day we celebrate the soldiers who gave their lives for our country and acknowledge the sacrifice they made and try to reconcile their absence from our world as poignant and important. And it is. I believe the Orken family were fallen soldiers too: Dr. Orken was a promising surgeon, Shirley was no doubt a wonderful mother and the hope and dreams of Vivian and Stephen laid to rest by surviving grandparents who buried their own futures beneath the river rich soil of Ouachita Parish.