Judith Bingham wept as the flag-draped coffin of her big brother arrived at DFW Airport Friday afternoon. Hers were tears of sadness and tears of joy for the tireless search, the resolution and the journey home that took 74 years.
"I was determined to find him, and I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it," she told WFAA from her home in Fredericksburg, Texas, where nearly every tree in the front yard bears a yellow ribbon in memory of Army Pvt. Kenneth Dayle Farris.
She was four years old when Dayle, 15 years her senior, left their home in Dodson in the Texas panhandle to serve in World War II.
"He would comb his hair back you know, and he would look at himself and say 'ahhh, you handsome devil you,'" she laughed. "And I never will forget that."
But those fond memories would darken two years later. Wounded in a firefight in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany in 1944 while serving with Company B, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, he disappeared on his way to an aid station to get help and became one of more than 73,000 American soldiers in WWII who were never found and never came home.
"I think my mother when the war started, my mother had dark hair and when it ended, she was white-headed. It's true," Bingham said. "Every time she talked about Dayle, she cried. Every time. The tears would well up in her eyes and she'd say 'I shouldn't talk about it anymore.'"
But when she became a teenager, Judith Bingham made her mom a promise. She would find Dayle. She would bring him home.
"It hurt. And I hated seeing her hurt," she said. "And that's what made a 15-year-old girl make a promise," I asked her.
"That's right. I said I'd do it and I never forgot I told her I'd do it," she said.
She searched military records. She began writing a book about big brother Dayle. She even visited the forest where he disappeared. Their mom died at the age of 93 never knowing what happened to her son. But Judith kept searching, finding little. Until a few years ago, when a friend suggested that she and her son submit their DNA to a military database.
"Whose DNA matched your brother," I asked.
"All of us," she exclaimed.
What she learned is that her brother's remains, albeit unidentified, had been found in that German forest back in 1946. She believes he may have stepped on a landmine or hit a German tripwire. By the time he was found, he could not be identified. He was buried, disinterred, and attempts made at identification multiple times, to no avail. Until, just this past year, technology matched his little sister's DNA.
"It's the most thrilling moment of my life! I cannot tell you what that means to me to have promised that to my mother and followed through. Sometimes promised are really kept. This is one of those times," she said.
"It seems like this was the most important thing in your life," I asked her.
"It was. And is," she said.
And all the emotions of those 74 years of searching were evident as Judith and her family stood on the tarmac at DFW Airport Friday afternoon. Her brother, in a flag-draped casket, reached Texas for the first time since he left as a 19-year-old army Private. And Monday, they will all gather again at DFW National Cemetery where he will be buried with full military honors.
"I am so thankful that we'll have a place where we know he is. I want so bad to say, 'Dayle, you're home,' and have him hear me," she said.
Back in Fredericksburg, Judith Bingham added a banner over her driveway that says "Welcome Home PVT Kenneth Dayle Farris." More proof that she kept her promise to her late mother.
"I said I would bring him home to Texas, and he's home," she said.
"Feels good to have kept that promise even though it took 50 plus years," I asked.
"Yes, yes it does," she answered.
Because no matter her age, she will always be the little sister who just wanted her big brother to come home.