Remembrance set in stone

Forgotten on a dusty shelf sat a grey granite stone with a simple cross and the words, “Lost at sea”. Pier Funeral Home Director, Pete Pier discovered the memorial while cleaning and performing maintenance at his business and set about making things right.

2nd Lieutenant Charles William (Billy) Kant was an Army Air Corp navigator aboard a B-24 (Liberator) bomber which participated in a bombing mission to Bremen, Germany, on December 20, 1943. The bomber was seen to sustain damage from enemy anti-aircraft fire. Regaining control, the bomber turned and headed toward England but began to lose altitude. They turned back toward the formation and when last seen, disappeared into the clouds east of Texel Island and presumably into the Baltic Sea. Remains were never found. Young Billy was just 23 years old.

William F. and Estelle Runser Kant raised their family in Lost Springs and six children were born on the homestead. Walter, Charles William (Billy), Edith, Emmy Lou, Richard and Pauline. Estelle passed away in 1933 when Pauline was two and the young Pauline was raised by an Aunt Elsie, living in Wisconsin.

The Kant family is of German descent. Many German immigrants settled across Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. They embraced their new homeland, worked hard and raised their children to love their country. And when their homes were threatened, they proved their loyalty by serving in our defense. The Kant family was no different. Walt Kant joined the Coast Guard. Edith Kant was an Army nurse. Richard joined the Navy. And then of course, Billy. Richard idolized his older brother Billy and was crushed when he was lost.

In the January 13, 1944 Lusk Herald, it was reported the William F. Kant had been recently informed that his son, Billy Kant was listed as missing in action. But it wasn’t until September 20, 1945 that the following was printed in the Lusk Herald.

“William F. Kant of Lost Springs has been notified that his son, Second Lieutenant Charles W. (Billy) was reported missing in action December 20, 1943, is now officially considered dead by the War Department.…Mr. Kant received a letter from Maj. Gen. Edward F. Witsell, stating that since no information has been received which would support a presumption of his continued survival, the War Department must terminate Lt. Kant’s absence by a presumptive finding of death. The presumptive date of death was set as September 7, 1945.”

A rose-colored granite stone at Keeline, Wyoming bears the names of six young local men that paid the ultimate sacrifice. Billy Kant is just one of an estimated 50 to 80 million souls lost to World War II.

And perhaps his story would have ended there, but for a friendship.  

In the mid 90’s, Pete Pier and Emmy Lou (Kant) Huff developed a rapport and at some point, Huff shared her brother’s story along with the thin, fragile letter penned to her father over 50 years previous from the War Department. Pier shared that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible Veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death.

A Government-furnished medallion may be provided for eligible Veterans who served on or after Apr. 6, 1917 and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker.

There is no charge for the headstone or marker itself, however arrangements for placing it in a private cemetery are the applicant’s responsibility and all setting fees are at private expense. Pier and Huff began the process of petitioning the VA for her lost brother. 

Unfortunately, Huff passed away in July of 2003 without direction for Pier to proceed with the arrangements of placing the headstone. And so, Billy Kant’s memorial sat on a dusty shelf until its re-discovery, over 14 years later. 

After discussing the circumstances with Kant family members, Steve Kant and Mike Kant, it was decided that Billy’s marker would be placed at the feet of his parent’s. On November 17, 2017, almost 74 years after Billy gave his life in the service of his country, his stone was set. A remembrance set in stone.

On December 3, 2017 the Lusk Elks Lodge #1797 and the Does Drove #64 will be holding their Annual Memorial Service starting at 5:00 p.m. at the Elks Lodge. 

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