- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

CORNISH, N.H. (AP) - In 1946, 19-year-old James C. Kibbey left his hometown of Cornish to join the U.S. Air Force. He didn’t move back, but he never forgot his roots.

Now residents are piecing together his life story after finding out that he left $80,000 to the town in his will when he died last year at 87. They also discovered that he wanted to be buried there.

Three selectmen in the western New Hampshire town of about 1,640 - the home of artist Saint-Gaudens and author J.D. Salinger - brought Kibbey’s remains back home Friday. He was cremated and interred last year at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery, about 60 miles away in Bocawen.

But, after learning of his death and the gift, a cousin pointed out that Kibbey had a headstone with his name on it next to a cemetery plot where his parents are buried in Cornish, the Eagle Times reported. That detail wasn’t in his will or known to his power of attorney.

“We want to make sure we do right by him,” Selectman John Hammond said. “It only made sense that he should come home to Cornish.”

Hammond and others held a graveside ceremony Friday afternoon.

Childhood friend Frank Hawkins said Kibbey and his parents lived in an area in town known as Cornish Flat, where they ran a dance hall. He attended school at the local Mason Hall before going to Stevens High School in nearby Claremont. He was on the Red and Black Yearbook Committee and wrote the class song for the Class of ‘45. He also was in the senior class play.

“‘Kib’ in his quiet way has endeared himself to everyone,” it said next to his yearbook photo.

After graduation, he joined the Air Force and served during World War II. He was discharged in 1949, and his name is on a war memorial in town. The veterans cemetery said he was a sergeant and received a victory medal, a good conduct medal and an American Theater medal. He eventually became an accountant living in Arlington, Virginia. He didn’t marry and had no children.

Hawkins said he hadn’t seen Kibbey in several years but would chat with him on the phone.

“He was a helluva nice guy,” Hawkins said. “He talked about the arrangements he’d made” (for his burial) in Cornish. “He said they were all paid for and he said when he passed they would just happen.”

The town held a public meeting this month to decide what to do with the money. There have been several suggestions, including putting some in a fund to be used to maintain the local war veterans memorial. They also voted to spend up to $3,000 of the gift to bring Kibbey home.

“We’d like to have something that was kind of a legacy, that people wouldn’t forget who he was,” Hammond said. “That’s a significant amount of money to be left to a town, and I think he should be honored and be remembered.”

___

Associated Press writers Kathy McCormack and Lynne Tuohy in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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