Tribute to an uncle who died in Normandy
It was seven years ago in May when Mary Ann and I took a European tour, cruising and a land tour.
We docked at Le Harve, France, and took a tour of the Normandy beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery. It was so satisfying to see the immaculately kept cemetery with 9,000 brave soldiers buried there who gave the supreme sacrifice during that horrible war.
Back in July 1944, my uncle Henry “Snook” Herold was killed in the battle of Saint-Lo. It was always my impression that he was buried at the Saint-Lo cemetery. When we arrived at the Normandy American Cemetery, I asked our guide if we would be stopping at the Saint-Lo cemetery. He asked why, and I told him I had an uncle killed at that battle of Saint-Lo. Our guide said that Saint-Lo was an English cemetery. That was news to us.
He suggested we stop at the headquarters of the Normandy American Cemetery and ask if my uncle was buried here. So we went to the headquarters, and asked a very kind young French lady if there was a Henry Herold buried there. She looked and looked and said no.
As we began to walk away, Mary Ann asked the young lady if she had a list of South Dakotans buried there, and she said she did. So, we looked at the South Dakota list and what do you think? I had spelled his name wrong, using “Harold” as his last name, and there in big bold print was “Henry Herold.”
As soon as the lady in charge heard we had a loved one buried there, out she came from her office and said she would take us out to the grave site in her golf cart.
As we boarded the golf cart, we noticed she had a bucket of sand with her. Upon arrival at the gravesite, the lady took sand from Omaha Beach and rubbed it on the engraving on the headstone. When we arrived at the gravesite, it became a very, very solemn moment.
It was a very quiet and reverent moment to stand near my uncle’s final resting place so very far away from his home, back in South Dakota. I remembered exactly the last time I had seen Uncle Snook. He came home on leave in his uniform and I was so excited to see him and he was his usual self, always full of fun and making humor constantly.
To think he had given up his future and his young secure life, married to my Aunt Lillian and so happy, and yet he stepped up to do what his nation was asking of him to go to a foreign land to defend the cause of freedom and bravely go forth into battle.
We spent time looking at nearby graves. If the soldier was a Medal of Honor recipient, the engraving on his headstone was in gold. Just a few sites past uncle Henry’s grave was a Medal of Honor recipient. It was the grave of a Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who was the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt.
There is nothing like actually being there!
Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes Mondays.