EIGHT MILE, Ala. (WALA) - Richard Jolly said he was just a child when a neighbor asked his father to let him store a wooden crate in his chicken house in Eight Mile during the 1950's.
Fifty years later, the family was still trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the grave stone inside it.
"He didn't tell him what was in it, he just asked him to save it for him. And, not long after that, Mr. Bryant died suddenly. We did not know what to do with the crate so we kept it. After some years, the wood rotted and we found it to be a headstone," Jolly said.
Years after that, the family learned it was a grave stone for a World War II veteran who died in 1953, at the age of 28.
James Earl Bryant was born on March 4, 1925. He was killed in a car accident on Lott Rd. just a few years after completing his Navy service.
Jolly's father tried for years to find Bryant's grave so that the stone could to be placed on it.
It's a mission he passed on to his son.
"Shortly before he passed away, he asked me to finish the job. He said, 'Son, find out where this head stone goes, and have it placed.' I promised him that I would," Jolly said.
Even in the era of the Internet, it wasn't until recently that Jolly was able to come up with his first important clue in the mystery.
"I called the American Legion here in Eight Mile. A lady named Theresa has helped me with this. She found an obituary from the archives of the local paper," he said.
There are several Bryants buried in the Indian Springs Cemetery, and Jolly can't be sure which are related to the young veteran.
Jolly's decades-long effort got another break on Tuesday when he came across a flyer at one of the grave sites. It was from someone who is compiling historical information about the cemetery. Jolly hopes the researcher can at least lead him to the Bryant family plot.
"I have hope now that I can talk to him tonight. He has the records at his home and we can solve this as quickly as possible," Jolly said.
In the meantime, there's another problem to deal with: nature.
Thick bushes and roots have encased the headstone, which has been on the side of the Victory Assembly of God Church in Eight Mile for years.
It'll take some effort and muscle to get the stone moved. Jolly said the elderly members of his congregation aren't up to the task, but he doesn't plan to let that stop him from fulfilling his promise, and honoring a young man who served our country.
"I made a promise to my Dad, and this gentleman needs to have a proper headstone at his burial," Jolly said.
Jolly said even if he can't locate the exact grave for James Bryant, he will be satisfied to place the stone near the veteran's family members.
If you have any information about James Earl Bryant, or you would like to help move the headstone, call the Victory Assembly of God Church. The number is 251 457-0100.
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