'Taps' sound: Last of 7 WWII Durham sibling veterans passes away
Alvin Bryant walked through Woodlawn cemetery six years ago on Veterans Day, placing small American flags on the graves of five of his brothers.
On Saturday, Alvin joined them, the last out of seven brothers who served in World War II to pass away. He was 87 when he died Wednesday at the Durham VA Medical Center hospice.
He grew up in a family of nine brothers — their parents nicknamed them the “baseball team.” But when called to serve in the war, almost all the Bryant sons ended up in the Army in the European theatre.
At Clements Funeral Home Saturday, Alvin’s casket was blanketed in an American flag. Wreaths of red roses, white Anastasia spider flowers and blue ribbon surrounded him. After family members filed in and sat in the front pews, “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban began to play in the chapel.
Alvin and his twin brother, Calvin, were both Durham High School grads and served in the 69th Infantry Division. Alvin ended up getting hit with German shrapnel outside of Ramscheid. It was around 2 a.m. when the shrapnel tore through his side, a large piece ending up near his heart. Doctors had to let that piece go, in fear of killing him in surgery.
“Yeah, I was scared. You’re too scared to get scared,” Alvin recalled in a 2007 interview with The Herald-Sun. “I was just concentrating on the war. I was just trying to stay alive.”
The leftover shrapnel never slowed him down, especially when his grandchildren wanted to play.
Even though more than 300,000 people from the U.S. were either killed or injured in World War II, all seven of the serving Bryant sons returned safe to the family’s Durham home on Angier Avenue. Alvin brought a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Artillery Medal with him.
When Alvin got back to the States, he attended pharmacy school at UNC Chapel Hill and ended up owning The Prescription Shop, Al’s Pharmacy and Al’s Holloway Street Pharmacy before he retired in 1980.
“People who came into the drug store and didn’t have medicine, and didn’t have money to pay for it, he made sure they got their medicine,” said Ronnie Bryant, one of Alvin’s four children. “He would go out at midnight to deliver medicine to people in some of the worst neighborhoods you would’ve ever seen. He promised, and he delivered.”
Ronnie said the drug store would sell the best lemonades, orangeades and milkshakes in town, and business was constant. Alvin’s brothers would help him at the store, and Ronnie said sometimes when people walked in, it ended up being a “three-ring circus” in the store — the Bryants enjoyed entertaining customers.
Gary McCorkle, a friend of the family, met Alvin more than 50 years ago, and his first one-on-one with Alvin was at his drug store. McCorkle didn’t have any money, and his foot was pretty banged up after falling during a basketball game.
“He said, ‘Boy, you better get off that thing,’” McCorkle said. “… You walk in, and he just wanted to jump on you and help you. You don’t meet a lot of guys like him.”
Last time he saw Alvin was Veterans Day at the Durham VA this year, where Alvin was staying. McCorkle got to meet some of his roommates, and they all enjoyed spending time together.
“He had that first smile on his face in that VA that he did that first time in the drug store,” McCorkle said.
Ronnie said growing up, the Bryant family would go to church every Sunday. They attended Liberty Free Will Baptist Church, and after services, they would go to McDonald’s and order 15-cent hamburgers.
“We thought we were getting a sirloin steak,” Ronnie said. “… He was one of the best fathers you could ask for. I could not hand pick a better father.”
Ronnie and his family shared stories together about Alvin late into Saturday night, after laying him to rest. One of the things Ronnie will continue to treasure, after his father’s death, is his middle name, Alvin.
“You gave me many things,” Ronnie wrote in his father’s remembrance book Saturday, “but the most important thing you gave me was your name.”