BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Jan. 4 has always had profound meaning for Sandra McNamara. On that day, 55 years ago, her 23-year-old brother was killed in Vietnam. 

Now, Jan. 4 has new meaning. It’s also the day George Merritt Wisham Jr. began his final trek home. 

Second Lt. Wisham, a Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College graduate, was killed by a fragmentation bomb on Jan. 4 1968. 

“He was one heck of a guy, I can tell you that,” McNamara said. “He graduated from the University of Nevada at Reno, was commissioned, bought a brand-new Corvette. Only cost $6,000 for a brand-new Corvette. And then he went to Vietnam. He was there for three weeks and was killed.”

Wisham’s company, part of the 101st Airborne Division, had been trying to dislodge the Viet Cong from Chu Chi, in Binh Duong Province, and they encountered heavy resistance. Wisham, one of eight soldiers killed in the U.S. attack, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. 

His sister began trying to get custody of his cremains, interred at Bakersfield’s Historic Union Cemetery, almost a year and a half ago. 

“It was 55 years ago that he was killed and it was a year and four months ago I decided I wanted to see where he was interred,” she said. “I thought it was time. It was time to remove him from his little cubicle.”

The challenge was that the U.S. Army was officially listed as next of kin. Once that was sorted out, McNamara arranged to drive down from her home in Redding to take possession. But this was no simple handoff. Lt. Wisham deserved something more, and he got it.

“The celebration was unreal,” McNamara said. “I mean, this is something that I’ll remember forever. … I lost a brother but I’ve gained a whole bunch of new brothers.”

Then it was off, with a motorcycle escort. First, to Redding 440 miles north, then eventually to Maui. That will be his final stop, scattered to the winds of the Pacific, but not forgotten. His family started an annual ROTC scholarship award in his honor at Nevada-Reno.

“[For] 55 years [we’ve] been doing that – and we’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m around,” McNamara said.