Sgt. David E. Lemcke brought his first horse home at the age of 15, without mentioning anything to his mother beforehand.
He was always better at asking forgiveness than permission, said his sister, Darlene Williams.
Earlier this week, Lemcke, who was killed in Vietnam on May 21, 1968, finally had his remains brought back to his home in Hilton. On Saturday, several hundred people attended his funeral at the First Bible Baptist Church in Greece, and many followed to watch him be laid to rest in Parma Union Cemetery. Williams, of Rochester, who was 16 when Lemcke headed to Vietnam, was among the family members who spoke at the funeral service, and told the story of how his mother spotted him walking back to the house one day with a horse in tow.
“I didn’t want to be there when this all goes down, because she did not know,” about it, said Williams. “I don’t know what they said to each other, I just know that from then on, we had a horse.”
Lemcke came from a large family. His grandparents on his father’s side had 16 children, and many of them had kids of their own. He was born fifth out of the 55 grandchildren on that side of the family.
His cousin Richard Lemcke of Hilton — number 20 out of 55, he said — also spoke at the service, recounting how they’d both worn the same “sexy” black-rimmed glasses in their youth. He also shared the story of a farmer whom his cousin had worked for in his youth. Before Lemcke shipped off to Vietnam, he had a conversation that the man would never forget.
“David said to him, and I quote, ‘I have many reservations about going to Vietnam, but I must go, because that it was the country has asked of me,’ ” said Richard Lemcke. “That statement tells you alone more than I could ever say about cousin David.”
Lemcke, a 1965 graduate of Hilton High School, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 at age 18. In March 1968, his family was notified that he was missing in action.
For more than 40 years, Lemcke’s remains lay in a bunker just south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam
Multiple investigations were carried out looking for his remains between 1993 and 2011, according to the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, but early investigators were unable to excavate the bunker because there were a number of potential explosives still in the area.
But by June of this year, the explosives had been removed and investigators were able to recover his remains, dog tags, and eyeglasses.
Richard Lemcke said that his family had lost several other members in the decades that came and went in the mean time. But each death brought them closure, which they weren’t able to obtain after his cousin was killed.
That is, perhaps, until now.
A procession of bagpipers and drummers marched through the church as the casket was brought in, and dozens of American flags were positioned around the outside of the building. Many members of the armed forces were present and in uniform.
“Today is not about the war,” said Richard Lemcke. “It’s about those who served our country because they were asked to.”