“Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache, which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors — neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.”
-President Truman, announcing Germany’s surrender ~ May 8, 1945
A little bit about me…
My name is Rose Kohler. I am 17, and currently a senior at Millis High School in Millis, Massachusetts. As one of our graduation requirements, each Millis High senior undertakes a year-long project exploring something of interest or importance to us. These projects often have a community service element, while teaching us valuable skills to be used in college and beyond.
In the summer of 2017, my family and I had the opportunity to visit the Normandy region of France. The area is rich in American military history from the days of WWII, and I found myself in awe of how time seems to have stopped there, cementing forever the memories of the massive and devastating conflict. We finished our tour in the Normandy American Cemetery. Overlooking Omaha Beach, one of the five famous D-Day landing sites, the cemetery is equally as haunting as it is beautiful.
We were on a personal mission of sorts. Before our trip, my mother recalled that her cousin had a brother killed in France in June, 1944. PFC James F. Devine, Jr., was among the first U.S. Army infantry divisions to hit Utah Beach on D-Day, and while he survived the landing, he died five days later as his division pushed for Cherbourg. Jimmy’s sister had been unable to locate his grave on her visit years before, so we promised her that we would pay tribute to his service in her stead.
The cemetery aided us in the ceremony, placing the flowers and flags at the base of Jimmy’s cross, and rubbing sand from Omaha Beach into his name, allowing the etching to stand out in the white marble.
First established on June 8, 1944, the beautiful expanse of the Normandy American Cemetery is the final resting place of 9,387 men and women who lost their lives on D-Day and afterward. The names of 307 of those soldiers, however, are still unknown.
As I wandered silently among the graves, I began to realize just how many crosses had the inscription “A Comrade in Arms. Known but to God.” I sat down on a bench, and began to wonder. Who, if anybody, comes to visit these graves? It dawned on me that these unknown soldiers, like Jimmy, must have had family back home who would have been willing to make the journey to honor this sacrifice. But those families never could. These soldiers, though they gave their lives for their country, are seldom, if ever, recognized for doing so.
It was there, on that bench, that the idea for this project was born: to create an initiative to honor all the unknown soldiers buried in the Normandy American Cemetery with the recognition they so justly deserve.
For more photos, see the Gallery below.