GRAND-FAILLY, FRANCE – WWII BURIAL GROUND -- FRANCE’S GRATITUDE
During the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, the United States Army was faced with the daunting task of burying those who perished. One of the locations chosen was the small village of Grand-Failly in France, 53 miles south of Bastogne. The cemetery opened on December 20, 1944, just 4 days after the beginning of the Bulge offensive. It was operated and maintained by the US Government, but citizens of the town helped tend the graves.
In 1948, the decision was made to relocate the fallen, and they were interred in private and national cemeteries in the United States and in military cemeteries in Europe. July 11, 1948 was the last tribute before exhumation of the bodies. The cemetery in Grand-Failly no longer exists. What was once a field of crosses is now a field of corn.
In 1985, the 40th anniversary of the end of WWII, the people of Grand-Failly erected a memorial on the site. The dedication reads: “Here rested in peace 2967 American soldiers from December 1944 to 1949. These brave men made the ultimate sacrifice during the Ardennes Offensive. They will always have our utmost respect, admiration and remembrance.” A modest memorial in a small town, the memorial reflects the gratitude of its people.
To honor these men and to thank the citizens of the town who 63 years later still remember, Donna decided to do her best to identify them. She solicited the help of military and genealogical researcher, John Bowen of Maryland, who kindly photographed the original plot maps at the National Archives in Washington, DC and sent them to her.
The maps contained only names, first initials and serial numbers. Donna was able to identify the plot, row, grave number, full name, rank, serial number, state of enlistment, and when possible the date of death and permanent burial site. She used the following websites: National Archives, Military Personnel; Ancestry.com, US Rosters of World War II Dead 1939-1945; American Battle Monuments Commission; Nationwide Grave Site Locator; National WWII Memorial; and Google.
When Donna completed the tedious task of memorializing these men, she sent a copy of the completed book to Oliver Pernot and asked him to present it to the town and Memorial Committee. His attempt to do this was rejected. The people felt it deserved a special memorial service in honor of the book which was scheduled for October 8, 2011. They insisted that they wanted Donna to attend the service and present the books in person. Donna wasn’t in a position to afford a trip to France and she told them so. In September she received an email from Oliver telling her to pack her bags. He, with the help of the committee and town, purchased airline tickets for her.
Donna found it overwhelming to be a part of this ceremony and to know just how much the people of France – especially this small town – appreciated what our soldiers did for them in WWII. This cemetery was only there for four years but they have held three ceremonies every year for over 60 years. Donna found this very touching. The love they have for America is something to experience especially when you realize most of them were very small children or not even born during WWII.
Donna says: “It was not a chore to research these men. It was an honor. To know for years to come they will be remembered not only as a cross in a photo, but each of them will hold a place in my heart and will be remembered by Oliver and the people of Grand-Failly, is very special. My Uncle never got to marry or have children so his legacy ended on January 2, 1945. I feel in some small way I have given him a place in history and his deeds will live on.”
Donna is Treasurer for the Pittsburgh Chapter, DAR; member of the United States Daughter of 1812; Treasurer for the Ruth F. Barnhart Tent 56, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War 1861-65; member of the First Families of Western Pennsylvania; member of the Butler County Historical Society; former Trustee and Member of East Union Presbyterian Church; and a member of the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society. She has compiled and published three family histories: Descendants of William and Samuel Cooper of Butler County, PA; Family Tree of Valentine Braun and Marguerite Bender; and Descendants of George Simmers of Chester County, PA.
Note: Closson Press printed Donna's original book which was prepared exclusively for the French. We thought it might be of interest to people in the US who are searching their ancestors and asked Donna to make it available in a more research savy edition for the genealogist.