By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

From a dumpster to a grateful son’s hands, a seven-decades old photo finds a permanent home. Sounds like a teaser for a Ryan Gosling movie or an old Perry Mason episode. It’s not. It’s real. Life is always better than fiction. John Muckleroy Jr. grew up knowing his father served in the US Navy in WWII. R.H. Deason Jr. of Hessmer is 97, sharp as a tack and a US Army veteran of WWII.

Their story begins in the unlikely location of a flea market on Hwy 84 near Logansport April 26 when Deason and his daughter, Lisa, and son-in-law Kevin Wiley were headed to a family reunion in Texas. They spotted the flea market and decided to stretch their legs and browse. Deason was wearing his WWII veteran’s hat when a vendor approached him asking if he’d like to see a WWII photo. She gave him the framed picture that included a list of awards and the name Muckleroy.

Not a Navy man, but a veteran and someone who appreciates memorabilia, Deason accepted the photo and continued on to the family reunion. “I said it would take Perry Mason to figure this out,” Deason said, but was willing to try to locate Muckleroy’s family. The first week of this month, he went to the VA in Pineville and showed the picture to his patient advocate, Tracy Tam. “He had told me he was going to the family reunion, so I was expecting to hear all about it. Instead he began unwrapping a bag he had strapped to his scooter,” Tam said. “He said ‘I have a job for you’ and began to tell me about the picture. He wanted the family to have it. I agreed to help him, I mean, when Mr. Deason, at 97, asks for your help you give it (laughs).”

Deason’s tribute to his days in the US Army during WWII.

Tam said she thought finding the family would never happen but they looked up the ship online as well as for a list of names and an online yearbook. “When it was time for him to go, he says, ‘Well, now that’s your job.’” Tam said. “It was a name I had never heard before and oddly enough a man by that name had been to this facility at some time. I said it wouldn’t hurt to try the contact information I had. I called and left a message.” The son called back. “What a call,” Muckleroy said. “She started by saying who she was and that a patient had something pertaining to my dad and WWII. She told me the patient’s name, age and that he would like for me to meet him so I could have the picture.”

“I didn’t know if the family would even care about the picture, but I wanted to try to get it to them, to see if they wanted it,” Deason said. Imagine his surprise when Tam contacted him the very next day to say she had located Muckleroy’s son. That family could have been anywhere on earth, but miraculously, the son was in nearby Natchitoches. A couple of phone calls later and the meeting was set. “I brought a lot of stuff, memorabilia, I thought he’d like to look at,” Muckleroy said. Deason did, “We had a really good visit.” The first thing that caught Muckleroy’s eye when he entered Deason’s home was a whole wall displaying the veteran’s time in service. “He had pictures, certificates and even his uniform proudly displayed. It was impressive.” The men, along with Muckleroy’s wife, Paula, and Deason’s daughter and grandson, Cody Baker, sorted through the memorabilia, pictures and books and heard stories of Deason’s time in the South Pacific.

“I was in the Philippines when Truman dropped the atomic bomb, effectively ending the war, everyone surrendered. Just think, I was there three years, three months and 28 days and didn’t see a single person I knew.” The name of the ship Muckleroy’s father served on was the USS Guam and with the assistance of Trent Friedel, US Navy Reservist of Natchitoches, Muckleroy learned his father’s rank was Seaman 2nd Class. Even Perry Mason can’t solve the mystery of how the historic photo wound up in a dumpster, was found and made it into a flea market in Logansport on a day a WWII veteran was compelled to stop and browse, then to the VA and finally into the hands of the son whose father’s name is penned on the front. “It’s just all a coincidence to me,” Deason said. “It was meant to be this way. Ms. Tam was very helpful, very good to me.” All these decades later, after those three years of not knowing anyone, he found someone he’s glad to know. Muckleroy, who has the photo in his office at First Credit Corp, next to the DMV in Natchitoches, agrees. The Ship USS Guam (CB-2) was an Alaska-class large cruiser which served with the United States Navy during the end of World War II.

The water stained framed photo of the USS Guam.

She was the second and last ship of her class to be completed. The ship was the second vessel of the US Navy to be named after the island of Guam, an American territory in the Pacific. Due to her commissioning late in the war, Guam saw relatively limited service during the war. She participated in operations off Okinawa in March–July 1945, including providing anti-aircraft defense for the carrier task force and conducting limited shore bombardment operations. She participated in sweeps for Japanese shipping in the East China and Yellow Seas in July–August 1945. After the end of the war, she assisted in the occupation of Korea and transported a contingent of US Army troops back to the United States. She was decommissioned in February 1947 and placed in reserve, where she remained until she was stricken in 1960 and sold for scrapping the following year. The ship was 808 feet 6 inches (246.43 m) long overall and had a beam of 91 ft 1 in (27.76 m) and a draft of 31 ft 10 in (9.70 m). She displaced 29,779 long tons (30,257 t) as designed and up to 34,253 long tons (34,803 t) at full combat load.