Nobody with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office knew who Private Virgil Adkins was before Aug. 31 and it didn’t matter.
When the local law enforcement agency got to call asking for a police escort through Carroll County for the fallen Korean War veteran, his remains just recently identified after 63 years, there was never a second thought.
“We were absolutely honored when the Virginia Patriot Guard called us and asked us to assist because this gentleman made the absolute sacrifice to this nation just for the freedoms we enjoy each and every day,” said Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner. “Of all the people in this world who deserve an escort, this man deserves an escort.”
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recently announced that the remains of Pvt. Virgil B. Adkins, 21, of Hinton, West Virginia, missing from the Korean War since 1953, were identified and would be returned to his family after 63 years for burial with full military honors. Adkins was scheduled to be buried Sept. 3 in Hinton, West Virginia.
On Aug. 31, his remains were flown into North Carolina, where members of his family met the North Carolina Patriot Guard to return Private Adkins to West Virginia. After receiving an escort through the Tar Heel State, the North Carolina Patriot Guard met the Virginia Patriot Guard that day in Carroll County at the Virginia Welcome Center in Lambsburg to take over Adkins’ transport home. Led by Sheriff Gardner, Chaplain Vernon Landreth and Gary Bourne, the Carroll County’s Sheriff’s Office joined the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office with an escort all the way through Virginia to the West Virginia state line.
“The Assistant Captain of the Patriot Guard called me and said, ‘What would be the likelihood you could get a police escort together? Do you think you could get an escort through Carroll?’” Landreth said. “I said, ‘I can guarantee an escort through Carroll County before I even make the phone call.’ I called Sheriff Gardner and there was no issue. From that point in time, Sheriff Gardner called and committed and got this lined up to escort this family and this hero all the way across the state to West Virginia. You have a man who has been 63 years coming home and I think it’s important. Even though we don’t know who this man is and I don’t know his family, community says I am going to respect this family, and if I can help them get closure and get peace in their heart and then they see other veterans, other police officers, people in the community respecting him and respecting them for their sacrifice of losing this family member, that’s important.”
Eighteen miles up the road at Exit 19, a large contingent of locals showed their support to the late Private Adkins. Members of the Grover King VFW Post 1115, area American Legion, Carroll County High School JROTC program, Game Department, and members of the Hillsville Fire Department draped a huge American flag over the Exit 19 overpass and saluted as Adkins’ remains passed through on the road home.
Veteran Daniel Carlan, who hadn’t been back to his native Carroll County for seven years, was with the group. Carlan, who couldn’t attend fallen comrade Nicholas J. Alden’s (USAF, Operation Enduring Freedom) funeral, said he found closure in honoring the Korean vet.
A former Virginia State Trooper, Gary Coy Cope didn’t serve in the military. But as the assistant state captain with the Virginia Patriot Guard of Western Virginia, honoring those who fought and died for our country means the world to him.
“It brings tears to me right now talking to you, especially to know we are bringing a man back home that is from the forgotten war. The Korean Conflict was never really called a war,” Cope said. “Doing this brings honor to the family and I just tremble sometimes because I have a heart for our nation.”
Like Cope, Orrin Agney is a member of the Virginia Patriot Guard from Galax, even though he didn’t serve in the military. Really, there is just one simple requirement to join the Patriot Guard.
“All we require is respect,” Cope said. “Respect for the hero, whether it be law enforcement, military or emergency service people. We formed when Westboro Baptist Church was cussing the soldiers and a few motorcycle riders banded together and blew their Harley pipes and protected that grave. Finally, Congress and George W. Bush signed a declaration that the Patriot Guard is the official protection of military graves and no one can be within 300 feet one hour before or one hour after protesting. We show respect for the fallen to guard any intrusions against any type of funeral.”
Don Bryant, who led the North Carolina Patriot Guard from Greensboro to the Virginia state line, saluted Cope during the handoff ceremony between the two states. He said it was a privilege to help provide the escort for Private Adkins.
“When you think this gentleman has been missing and is finally coming home after 63 years, it’s hard to comprehend,” Bryant said. “He has been missing longer than a lot of my folks have been alive, so it’s a huge honor for us.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN