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Brother in arms remembered for life he gave in 1944

May 24, 2009|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- His Army helmet has a small hole on one side, evidence of the conflict that cost Jason H. Barron his life. But Barron's family still struggles with the huge hole left by his death on Aug. 17, 1944.

Almost 65 years later, his only surviving brother, Emerson Barron, a longtime resident of Williamsport who recently moved to Hagerstown, still tears up when he talks about his older brother.

"The family suffers, I'll tell you," he said.

Some of Barron's family members traveled last week to Lougé-sur-Maire, France, near the city of Fromentel, to reclaim his Army helmet. The villagers planned to hold ceremonies May 23 and 24 in honor of Jason Barron and five other U.S. soldiers who died with him.

Jason Barron, who grew up in Somerset, Pa., was 23 when he died. He and his wife, Eunice, had been married 14 months. She later remarried and had a family.

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Barron was the fifth of nine children -- six boys and three girls -- of Ira and Anna Belle Barron. Emerson Barron and Virginia McAlister of Jacksonville, Fla., are the only living siblings. Four of the Barron sons served during World War II.

Emerson Barron said Jason was home on leave when he received a middle-of-the-night phone call telling him to report to base because he was being sent overseas.

As soon as Jason was out the door, his mother wept, saying they'd never see him again. His mother's intuition was right.

A lieutenant in F Co., 36th Armored Infantry Regiment, Barron was buried near the French village he died defending.

He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration, which is awarded for gallantry in action.

He was credited with "borrowing a .50-caliber machine gun from friendly troops and directing the fire of the mortar and the machine gun on the advancing enemy ... which stopped a counterattack and forced the enemy to withdraw," according to the paperwork that accompanied the Silver Star. He also received the Purple Heart.

It is believed that Jason and the other five soldiers were killed by shrapnel when they were targeted by a German tank. Villagers Roger Pillu and Arthur Lenoble saw the bodies of the American soldiers before they were taken away to be buried.

Pillu later found a helmet bearing Jason Barron's name and identification number. He took it home, where it was stored until a request in 2004 for artifacts from World War II was publicized. The items were being sought for an exhibition in the city of Briouze to mark the 60th anniversary of the landing at Normandy.

At the exhibition, Pillu met up with Roger Bignon, who was his neighbor during the war. The fighting in Lougé-sur-Maire that claimed the lives of Barron and the others took place within 330 yards of Bignon's house.

Barron's helmet is pictured in "Helmets of the ETO, An Historical and Technical Guide," a book by Regis Giard and Frederic Blais that discusses how M1 helmets were made.

According to the book, the Fromentel crossroads were bitterly defended from Aug. 15 to 18, 1944, during the Germans' retreat from Normandy.

Pillu gave Barron's helmet to Bignon, who asked friends to help him locate Barron's family. Through the Internet, a friend of Pillu's, René Brideau, tracked down Linda Barron Heinrich of Halfway, daughter of Emerson Barron.

Heinrich tracked down the families of three of the other soldiers by sending letters to newspapers and American Legion groups in areas where they lived when they enlisted.

She found family members of Pvt. David M. Williams from Tennessee, Staff Sgt. Levy A. Guidry Jr. of Louisiana and Pfc. Jessie C. Price of Texas. She was still searching for relatives of Pfc. Arthur A. Hudson of Tennessee and Pfc. Michael E. Koepl of Wisconsin.

Two of Guidry's three sisters are living and were to join the Barron and Heinrich families in France for the ceremony, where a plaque was to be unveiled. All were invited to stay with Bignon on his farm.

Emerson Barron, 83, who struggled with the decision of whether to make the trip, decided he would. He visited his brother's grave site 15 years ago and found doing so provided some peace of mind and closure.

He said he still has recurring dreams of his brother coming home. In his dream, a car pulls up, and Jason Barron gets out and walks up the sidewalk, but he never speaks and the dream ends.

Barron was to be accompanied by Linda Heinrich and her husband, Brian Heinrich, a grandson, Ryan Barron, his wife, Holly, and their 4-year-old son, Carter.

Emerson Barron, who founded Red Barron Sales, is a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Army for three years. He served in Guam and was preparing to go on missions as a gunner when the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended.

The bodies of the five other soldiers who died with Jason Barron eventually were exhumed and returned to the U.S., but Barron is still buried at Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial in St. James, France. He is one of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers buried there, including 22 sets of brothers, Linda Heinrich said.

"Their families must know that their loved ones have not been forgotten by the devoted people of this area," Linda Heinrich planned to say in the speech she was to give at the cemetery.

She said the French gave the land to the United States, so it is considered U.S. soil. She compared it to Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery in that visitors are greeted, then walked out to the grave site they want to visit, and taps is played.

Linda Heinrich visited the cemetery last year during a trip to visit one of her three sons, who was studying at Oxford University.

Initially Heinrich didn't want the helmet back because the hole would remind her of the death of an uncle whom she never met. Heinrich, who was born three years and one day after Jason's death, said a friend persuaded her it was an important part of her family's history.

"Daddy says this generation doesn't understand. When we have the helmet in our hands, I will tell them the story," Linda Heinrich said.

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