Roger Briney doesn’t make a habit of jumping into dumpsters. Especially not ones that are about to have their contents crushed by a trash compactor. But this time something caught his eye – and the army veteran just couldn’t leave what he saw to be destroyed along with the garbage.
Briney’s actions that day set in motion a reunion some 25 years in the making. If it hadn’t been for his sharp eyes and quick action, the chest that he spotted in the dumpster would have been consigned to history forever. Instead, though, the priceless items that the chest contained made it back to their rightful home.
Briney served in the military in the early ’70s as a member of the U.S. infantry. He subsequently worked at Arlington National Cemetery for three years and then became a member of the National Guard. Then in 2016 he was dropping off his trash at a compacting site in Virginia when he noticed something in one of the dumpsters. And straight away he jumped into action.
In an interview with WTR News, Briney later explained what he saw. “I was mad as heck because someone threw away the flag,” he said. Yes, he had spotted a folded American flag sticking out of a trunk in the compactor. It’s unlikely that he took any time to think about the potential dangers of the situation, though. Instead, he just jumped in to retrieve the trunk.
The trunk was, moreover, seconds away from being destroyed. “As I lifted the lid up the guy at the dumpster started to crush the pile,” Briney told WTR News. But thanks to his speedy intervention, the box was saved. And he subsequently took it home and put it safely in his basement, where it remained for almost a year.
Briney washed the flag and then refolded it. Yet rather than digging deeper into its origins, he decided to let the matter lie. In fact, on two occasions he planned to get rid of the flag in unserviceable disposal ceremonies at a local American Legion Post. Each time, however, something came up, and Briney was unable to get there at the appointed hour.
The next twist in this strange story came from a friend of Briney, Walker Gaulding, who is also an amateur historian. Gaulding had come over to Briney’s to pick up an old military desk for his collection. And it just so happened that underneath that desk, just where Briney had left it, was the trunk.
It was mainly anxiety that had led Briney to do nothing with the trunk for nearly 12 months. Part of him thought that whoever the trunk had belonged to, it had been their family who had thrown it away. Talking to the Northern Neck News, he said, “One of the reasons I didn’t get into this very much was because I was so afraid that family had done that.”
Conversely, Gaulding was far too intrigued by the footlocker to not investigate further. In fact, he hurriedly put it in his truck in case Briney changed his mind. So when he got it home, Gaulding and his wife began looking through the items that the trunk contained, and they really couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
The trunk was full of incredibly interesting finds. Alongside the folded flag there was a passport, some photographs, a cigarette lighter and even an old marriage license. There were newspaper articles, too. Gaulding’s curiosity was piqued, so he decided to dig deeper to try to find out who the items belonged to.
He soon discovered that the owner had been Lt. Col. Clyde N. Parthree, who had been a pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. And by the looks of the items inside of the trunk, it hadn’t been opened since around 1966. That was the year in which Parthree had died.
Another of Gaulding’s friends, Nigel Mulvena, came over for a visit shortly after Gaulding had retrieved the chest. Naturally, Gaulding showed his friend what he’d found, and there and then, Mulvena decided that he had to reunite the items with their rightful owner. He therefore took to the internet to find out as much as he could about the Parthree family.
After some searching, Mulvena discovered contact details for Parthree’s granddaughter, Cindy Blass. And eventually, he managed to get in contact with her and revealed that her grandfather’s belongings had been found. Unsurprisingly, she was shocked by this development – but nowhere near as shocked as Parthree’s son Don.
In fact, Don Parthree had been talking about his father’s trunk for as long as Blass could remember. Now aged 79 and in an assisted-living facility, Don had given up hope of ever seeing the possession again. It hadn’t been seen in 25 years, and the family had no inkling as to where it had ended up.
So the family decided to make the trip to Gaulding’s home to pick up the chest that they’d thought had been lost for good. Speaking to the Northern Neck News, Don Parthree’s niece Sherri Harris, who had lived with Don and his late wife Mary, said, “I never thought we’d see it again.” It was a feeling that Don shared.
According to the family, Don has a very reserved demeanor. However, he was unable to contain himself when he was finally face to face with the items he thought were lost. Each object that he pulled out of the trunk was accompanied by a story about his father. And the first thing that he did was pop on his dad’s flight cap, just like he had done when he was younger.
Every item virtually brought to life a man who had died some 50 years earlier. Don Parthree’s father was a smoker who was told to stop after suffering a heart attack. He had wanted Don to join the Air Force as well, but all Don wanted was to marry the woman he loved. And while the father was strict, he was the sort of man who would have helped anyone out if he could have.
Parthree was awarded a medal for 15,000 accident-free miles in the air. He flew the King of Belgium and was a personal pilot to two generals after the war. And he was a test pilot as well, flying the famous “wingless wonder” plane. Don even remembered a story about how his father flew the Shah of Iran in a hail storm.
Yet while the items in the trunk may be a testament to the life of a great airman, to Don Parthree they were a connection to his father that he thought he’d never see again. The last item Don received was his father’s folded flag, and this brought tears to his eyes. “What they gave back to him, they gave him back a priceless memory,” Don’s daughter Cindy told WTR News.
Lt. Col. Clyde N. Parthree’s belongings, including the flag that had been draped over the coffin at his funeral, had finally found their way home. And all because Roger Briney wouldn’t let an American flag get crushed in a trash compactor. “It is great. I never thought I would be doing this,” Don told WTR News. “I still can’t believe it.”