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After 72 Years of Marriage, Sailor and His Wife Inurned Together at ANC

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 8/24/2023

Seventy-two years.

That’s how long Ernest “Ernie” and Norma Faye Barchers, Jr. were married. They married in 1948, a year after they first met in church. The marriage only ended when they passed away in 2020 and 2021, respectively. They were inurned together at Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 22, 2023.

Through all those years, their bond never weakened. “They were enamored with each other,” said granddaughter-in-law Jamie Carter. “Pawpaw doted on Mawmaw and she didn’t want him to make a fuss.”

Ernie and Norma Barchers had three children: Steven, Joi and Ronald, and they helped raise a niece and nephew. They taught their children how to cook, sew and iron. When Steven was older, his father taught him plumbing, carpentry and electrical work. Joi learned canning from her mother. “My parents taught me how to live,” said Steven. Once the children had grown and moved out, the couple continued to hold family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even as they reached their late 80s and early 90s, the Barchers traveled across the country to visit their children.

“My earliest memory was when he got called back to Korea,” said Steven Barchers, who was not yet two years old at the time. “I remember standing at the door screen with my mom, who was pregnant with my brother, and we were crying.”

Before he married Norma, Barchers joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and served as a corpsman on a landing ship tank (LST) during the Normandy campaign in France in June of 1944. His ship landed equipment on Omaha Beach and brought the wounded back to Scotland. “I remember him talking about hitting the beach at Normandy,” said Joi Carter, “and so many guys getting shot while they were landing.” He treated the wounded while under fire and helped carry them to the LST, where he waited for high tide to refloat the ship.

After his duty in Europe, Barchers found himself at Iwo Jima in February 1945, where he served again as a Navy corpsman for the U.S. Marine Corps.

When war broke out on the Korean peninsula, the Navy called Barchers back to duty as a Navy corpsman for the Marines. His third child, Ronald, was born while he was aboard a ship. When word reached him, faulty radio communication made him think his new son’s name was Donald. “So my dad’s writing letters to my mom about little Donald,” said Joi Carter with a smile.

“He said he joined the Navy so he wouldn’t have to be in the dirt like the Army,” added Steven Barchers, “and he ended up with the Army on D-Day, and the Marines at Iwo Jima and Korea.” When asked why his parents chose Arlington National Cemetery as their final resting place, Mr. Barchers explained, “He always wanted to be here, and he said ‘I earned the right.’”

At the funeral service, Chaplain Darrell Cummings spoke about the longevity of the Barchers’ marriage. “This couple decided to be together every day,” he told the gathered family, “and you are the proof of that willingness.” He reminded them that the Barchers’ tenacity was etched into their DNA, concluding, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, I want you to remember who you are and where you come from.”

After a firing party fired three volleys, a bugler sounded Taps, and the honor guard folded the American flag over the two urns and presented it to Steven Barchers, Chaplain Cummings led the family to the Barchers’ niche in Columbarium Court 11. Once the urns were placed, each child and grandchild, some with tears in their eyes, reached in and touched the urns for a last time. Married for 72 years, the Barchers would now be together forever. Cummings concluded the service by telling the family, “Don’t just hold hands today; hold them as much as you can.”