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Man finds closure in brother's WWII death

July 05, 2009|By JANET HEIM

WILLIAMSPORT -- Tears and wine flowed on Memorial Day weekend as the family of Jason H. Barron traveled to France for celebrations of his service and to reclaim his battle-scarred helmet.

Emerson Barron of Williamsport wondered for 64 years how his brother, Jason Barron, died during World War II.

He got details and retrieved his brother's helmet on the trip to Lougé-sur-Maire, France, near the city of Fromentel. He was accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law, Linda and Brian Heinrich of Hagerstown, and his grandson and family, Ryan, Holly and Carter Barron of Milton, Del.

Jason Barron, of Somerset, Pa., and five other U.S. soldiers died on a French country road on Aug. 17, 1944. That area, near Fromentel, was named "Purple Heart Corner" because of the heavy casualties there.

The family has learned that Barron, a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and his men were killed by German fire as they took cover behind a tank. Barron's helmet bears a bullet hole. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration, which is awarded for gallantry in action.

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On the trip, the family also discovered the depth of gratitude the French villagers have for the American soldiers who fought for their liberation after six years of German occupation.

The six American soldiers and more than 700 soldiers of all nationalities were buried in a temporary cemetery in Gorron, the site of one of the weekend's commemorations.

Of the six soldiers, Jason Barron is the only one whose remains are interred at Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial in St. James, France. The bodies of the other five soldiers were returned to the United States for burial.

It was the rediscovery of Jason Barron's helmet, found on the road following his death, that led to the recent recognition in France. A villager discovered it after the bodies were removed in 1944 and tucked the helmet away in a closet, only to come across it about five years ago.

The helmet was clearly marked with Barron's name and identification number, which prompted an Internet search to find his family. The search led to Emerson Barron, a younger brother of Jason's.

Emerson Barron's daughter, Linda Heinrich, took charge of the e-mail correspondence. Plans began developing for a ceremony to return Jason's helmet to his family.

In the process of making travel plans to France, Linda Heinrich began her own Internet search to locate the families of the five other soldiers. She found the sister of Staff Sgt. Levy Guidry from Louisiana.

Joan Eymard and her husband, Hilton, also made the trip to France, and their ability to speak Cajun French aided in communicating with their hosts, Heinrich said. Eymard, who was 4 years old when her brother died, said her mother died without knowing what happened to her son.

Heinrich has since found family members of all the other soldiers.

The Barrons and Heinrichs expected a short ceremony with a presentation of the helmet to Emerson. Instead, they were feted with three days of lavish meals, gift presentations and "pomp and circumstance," Linda Heinrich said.

Gifts, mail and e-mails are still pouring in. The family even received in the mail an edited video DVD of the highlights of the weekend.

They visited the World War II monument at Normandy, then dined at the home of Roger Bignon, whose family home is within about 300 yards of where the soldiers died.

Plaques were unveiled at the statue of a soldier outside the local church, as well as at the spot where the six soldiers died. The stone buildings, cobblestone roads and farm fields probably look much the same as they did in 1944, the Heinrichs said.

"It was unbelievable the emotion that was there," Brian Heinrich said. He added that many French newspapers covered the events of the weekend and said that even a newspaper reporter seemed "very touched" by what was happening.

Despite the language barrier, Linda Heinrich summed up the experience this way:

"The spoken language was difficult to understand, but the language of the heart was loud and clear," she said.

In an e-mail she sent from France, Heinrich wrote: "We have been treated like royalty ... This experience has been life-changing."

Emerson Barron visited his brother's grave site 15 years ago with one of his grandsons. His memory of that visit was that they were treated well at the cemetery, but he vowed he would never return to France after being treated rudely in a Parisian restaurant.

Ultimately, he decided to put that memory aside to honor his brother and is thankful for the experience.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world ... To me, it was a tear-jerker. You could see the emotions on their faces," he said.

Emerson Barron was one of many speakers that weekend. He told those gathered that he now has closure and hopes the recurring dreams he has of his brother will cease.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want you to know how much I appreciate what you have done for my family and myself ... When I return with my family to the United States, I will be one of the best ambassadors France could ever have," Barron said.

He said he also hopes that, with his brother's helmet in hand, he and his family can educate younger generations about the importance of freedom and those who gave their lives for it.

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