In My Grandfather's Boots: From Utah Beach to Epinal

In August 2009, I had the rare opportunity to walk where my Grandfather, and countless others walked. From the landing beaches of D-day, following the path of the 79th Infantry and 314th Infantry Regiment across France, I caught a glimpse, perhaps, of how his 5 months on the front lines made him undergo a transformation from an apprehensive novice into a battle-tested veteran. Visiting the dark forests where empty foxholes tell haunting stories. Walking where the daily life of soldiers led, where they were locked in gruesome events far beyond their experience. Walking where they fought side-by-side under fire, suffered wounds, agonized over the deaths of friends, enduring true suffering and sacrifice. From Utah Beach to his final resting place in the American Cemetary at Epinal, France, this was my journey.

Day 6: Vincey, Epinal

Waking up, I headed to the train station for the trip to Epinal. This was where I expected to be the first in my family to visit my Grandfather's final resting place at the American Cemetary located there. Christophe Andre, whom I had met the day before as one of the jeep drivers that showed up en masse, greeted me at the train station and took me the 2-3 miles to the cemetary. It is a beautiful place and words don't capture the solemn quiet and beauty here. I quickly went to my grandfather's grave, and after the requisite photographs, sat quietly for a time at his headstone. Sixty-five years later, I am here visiting my grandfather, just one more ghost of the past. In reflection, he never felt the joy of returning home to his wife, daughter, and friends. So many things we take for granted in life; this is what he sacrificed. Today, I am closer to him. History speaks to me in what I imagine is his voice. Perhaps he could even hear me when I whispered tearfully, "You are remembered. Thank you".

51st Evacuation Hospital, Vincey, France
51st Evacuation Hospital, Vincey, France

From there, I went with Christophe, at his invitation, to his home where I had lunch with his family and played with 2 of his children. Christophe's man-cave was perfect with 2 computers (an avid WW2 gamer) and multiple remote-control WW2 tanks in various states of engineering. After lunch, we headed over to Vincey, where Melvin was transferred to the 51st Evacuation Hospital after he was severely wounded. First stop was City Hall where they directed us to the Cercle Genealogique de Vincey et du Bailliage d'Epinal. They were happy to take me out to the edge of town where the tent hospital formally stood. It is now bisected by a major road, but it was still memorable to stand here and think back to the muddy ground where decisions of life and death were made for many soldiers, some to never return home. Returning to the center, I visited the church where Howard Keher and Tillie Horvath were married (Medical Supply Officer and Nurse respectively), of the 51st Evacuation Hospital. I was even able to take photos of the marriage log which I will take to them in the coming weeks.

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