John Doe No. 155. For 37 years, that's how he was classified. Last year, however, he was finally given a name when the police identified him as Oral Stuart Jr. As I read his story -- a mere side-bar in the Internet news -- I found myself grieving over what I learned.
The last time the parents had heard from Oral was on Nov. 10, 1974, when their son called, asking for money. Twelve days later, the Marines officially listed him as a deserter, and no one seemed to put it together that the naked, beaten body dumped at a condominium complex in Long Beach, Calif., might be that of Stuart's.
And now, almost four decades later, a collaborative effort between the National Institute of Justice Cold Case, the coroner and NCIS, along with distinguishing features like tattoos and photos, allowed Oral's brother, Carl, to identify him. He was no deserter. He had been murdered.
Carl's comment reminded readers of the seriousness of the investigators' error. "http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120321/NEWS/303210043/%3Ca%20href="
"My parents both went to their graves not knowing what had happened to him and knowing (the Marine Corps) listed him as a deserter. Now I know he didn't desert; he was taken from us."
When I first read that article, I was furious that the family of this young man had to endure such incrimination. Being labeled a "deserter" carries with it a shameful connotation, and no parent wants to believe their child has chosen that route instead of service to our country. I pictured parents waiting by the phone, year after year after year, despairing to hear from their son, and I wondered what their life was like as neighbors and townspeople whispered when they passed, "Their son is a chicken. He skipped out of the Marines and didn't even have the nerve to let them know where he was."
But isn't this story similar to the one of Jesus? We last week celebrated his Resurrection, yet before that miraculous event he went to his grave labeled a fraud, while those who persecuted him scoffed, certain that his disciples would now go away, never to be heard from again.
I have to wonder: For those three days that he remained in the grave, what did his family think? We know the apostles and his friends hid, questioning what had gone wrong. After all, wasn't he to become their king, ruling in place of the Romans, while they served at his side? And when his family met with them, what was their conversation like as they tried to put the puzzle pieces together? Had they been misled? Had they really known Jesus at all?
Compare Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Stuart's mother. I imagine they avoided the public, knowing the whispers and sideways glances mocked their sons. But that's where the ugly similarities end. Stuart's mother died never knowing the truth. Mary had to wait merely three days before it became obvious that the grave was empty and that those who had labeled her son as the enemy were grievously mistaken.
Since the time Oral was identified, according to Carl Stuart and the Long Beach police, the Marine Corps has changed Stuart's status from deserter to honorably discharged.
The military will hold a full honor guard funeral service at the unmarked grave where Stuart and other Los Angeles County homicide victims are buried. How tragic that his family and friends were unable to be comforted with that news when they were still alive to appreciate it.
Praise God that wasn't the case for the loved ones of Jesus.