Marine Maj. Gen. Harry K. Pickett, a veteran of World War I and World War II, deserved a more honorable funeral than the one he initially received near Darjeeling, India, in 1965. Fifty-eight years later, on July 19, 2023, Pickett received a military funeral honors with funeral escort service at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).
A 1911 graduate of The Citadel in South Carolina, Pickett joined the Marine Corps in 1913. He was serving on the Pacific island of Guam when the United States declared war on Germany on April 7, 1917. That same day, he took part in the attempted capture of the German ship Cormoran, in an action resulting in the first shots fired by the United States in World War I. Some 24 years later, Pickett took part in the opening shots of another war when he and his fellow marines opened fire against Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor, where he commanded the Marine Barracks.
Pickett retired with the rank of major general in 1946. In 1965, he died suddenly of a heart attack in India, where he was buried. His headstone was eventually stolen, leaving him unidentifiable for decades. If not for a tireless search conducted by his granddaughter Sandra Sharpe and Citadel alum Bob Mebane, Pickett may have never returned home. By searching government records in the United States and India, the two eventually found Pickett’s grave. Then, working with the U.S. consulate, Sharpe arranged for her grandfather’s remains to be removed from the Indian cemetery and given a dignified transfer to the United States by U.S. Marines.
The funeral service at ANC was quite different from the one in India decades earlier. Cannons boomed, three V-22 Osprey aircraft flew over, the “President’s Own” Marine Band played, a firing party fired three volleys and a bugler sounded Taps.
“He was a good man, a fine soldier and a great marine,” said Chaplain (Rear. Adm.) Carey Cash to approximately 50 family and friends gathered at the funeral service. “After six decades, ‘Pick,’ as he was known, has finally come home.”
Chaplain Cash also announced his own special connection to Pickett. “The general and I are Citadel graduates,” he said. “If I do the math right, he’s got me by just a few years.” Cash then reviewed the general’s career, his death, his granddaughter’s odyssey to find him and his eventual return home. “Today we bring a hero to these hallowed grounds remembered by his family, to the Marine Corps he loved and the nation that owes him a debt of gratitude.”
After the Marine honor guard folded the American flag which covered Pickett’s casket into a tight triangle, Marine Maj. Gen. Roger Turner, the acting deputy commandant for plans, policy and operations, presented it to Sharpe, who raised it to her face and kissed it.
After the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Turner reflected on Sharpe’s search for her grandfather, “We talk about Semper Fidelis [the Marine Corps’ motto, meaning “always faithful”] in life, and we saw it played out today in reality, 58 years later.”
Mebane, the Citadel alum who helped Sharpe find her grandfather, became choked with emotion during the service. “Sandra and I agreed that it wasn’t right for a hero like him to be lying in an unmarked grave thousands of miles from home,” he explained after the funeral. “This was the right thing to do.”