My mother and I began our journey by attending the Memorial Day service sponsored by the 101st Airborne Division Association. We visited the wreath laying ceremonies at the Vietnam Memorial and the 101st Airborne Division Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. At the 101st Memorial, there was a wreath for the 506th PIR and a wreath in remembrance of my father and two other men of the 506th who lost their lives in World War II -- Morris Thomas and Roy Talhelm .
The next day we left for England. Our first stop was Littlecote Manor. Littlecote (now called Littlecote House and Hotel) was the site of the Regimental Headquarters for the 506th while preparing for the D-Day invasion. We went on a tour, and as we went through the mansion, both my mother and I imagined what it was like in 1944 -- where the men slept and ate and where Colonel Sink and his staff prepared for the battle to come.
From Littlecote we went to the railroad station in the city of Hungerford. We found the train station and some landmarks that allowed us to figure out approximately where my father was standing in a picture I have of him on May 28, 1944. It was a very powerful feeling to know that I was standing where he had stood 56 years before.
From Hungerford we traveled to the remains of Upottery Air Field, where most of the 506th took off for Normandy. The airfield runways and taxiways are still visible. The fields between the runways appear to be parts of working farms, except for a small stockcar racetrack in one corner of the airfield. The airfield was quiet and windy. It was an eerie feeling to see the emptiness where there had once been so much activity.
We left Upottery and went about 8 miles to the town of Honiton, where the men detrained. We found the train station in Honiton, and again I thought of the train arriving and the men getting on the buses to travel to Upottery.
On Saturday, June 3rd, we attended the dedication of a monument to the men who died on June 6, 1944, in the crash of plane number 66. This plane held a five-man crew from the 439th Troop Carrier Group and 17 men from E Company of the 506th. No one survived the crash. The Memorial was sponsored and constructed by the town of Beuzeville au Plain and the Forced Landing Association. M. Jean Pierre and M. Guy Lepretre of the Forced Landing Association, which was instrumental in the project, came from Belgium to participate. They treated us as honored guests. These people keep alive the memory of the American soldiers and continually express their thanks and gratitude. It is very humbling.
The next day we went to the American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer. We put a flag and 2 roses on my father's grave, and a recording of TAPS was played in my father's honor. I have visited my father's grave before, but visiting after tracing his steps and being there with only my mother made it a more special event. I felt especially close to my father, and after many years of being angry, was able to thank him for the sacrifice he made for me and all of us.
After visiting the cemetery, we drove to the area of the 506th Command Post on June 6, 1944. I shot video of the place I think my father met Colonel Sink near the 506th assembly area, of the Command Post for June 6 at Culoville, and of several fields nearby, in one of which my father may have been killed.
I have learned a lot about my father and where and how he died on this trip. I planned it and looked forward to it for a long time. I am grateful for the opportunity, especially to make the journey with my mother. After seeing everything I saw, I realized in a new way that I will never by able to know enough about my father no matter how much I search. That feeling made me sad but also brought a greater sense of peace or closure. I have done what I can do, and nothing will erase the pain of the loss.
I was also reminded of another lesson I have learned in my searches: everyone has a story to tell; there are tragedies in everyone's life. My life has been a good one compared to many others, and I am grateful for what I have been given.
View photos from this trip.