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Eight caskets in one day

Eight caskets in one day

Original published caption on March 7, 1968:

Military escorts salute as crates containing the caskets of servicemen killed in the Vietnam war are unloaded from the Southern Pacific Lark at Union Station. Eight bodies arrived Thursday — the most for one day here since World War II.

Times staff writer Linda Mathews reported in the next morning’s paper:

On a deserted platform at Union Station early Thursday, solemn workmen unloaded eight identical iron-gray plywood crates from the Southern Pacific Lark onto baggage dollies and then watched silently as the boxes were taxied away.

Nearby, seven Army enlisted men and a young officer — all wearing black armbands — stood rigidly at attention and saluted for a long minute as each crate was unloaded. No one spoke.

This is a ceremony that is reenacted with greater frequency every week at Los Angeles’ train station. But Thursday was special, for not since World War II have so many crates arrive in one day.

Each contained a steel casket, inside the body of a Southland soldier killed in Vietnam. Until a few months ago, one or two crates came in on each morning Lark from San Francisco. Now there are more.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the years I’ve worked here at the station,” said Vito bonanza, the assistant agent who directs the unloading of freight.

“Never eight in one day, never so many in all the time since World War II,” Bonando added.

The members of the military escort, who approach the task before them with a sense of foreboding as well as undisguised pride in the accomplishments of each fallen soldier, accompany the bodies to funeral homes and then meet the families of the men.

For Pfc. James McCloyn, the task was especially difficult. He was assigned to escort the casket of his uncle, Spc. 5 Joseph McCloyn, who was killed in combat a week ago.

The escorts are selected from among troops attached to the Oakland Army Base …

The men who serve as escorts generally find their task the “hardest in a whole army career.”

This photo by Times photographer R.L. Oliver was published as lead art on the next morning’s Metro section front, accompanying Mathews’ story.

The Lark, a Southern Pacific sleeper train was discontinued a month later in April 1968.

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