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U.S. soldiers who died at French village honored

August 20, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Place settings for six Americans who died while fighting to liberate a French village during World War II are illuminated by candles Saturday at an event in Hagerstown honoring them.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

There is solitude in combat — thoughts and fears that every soldier personally holds within his heart.

Who knows what six young Americans were feeling on Aug. 17, 1944, as they walked along a cobblestone road in Louge-sur-Maire, France.

Fighting to liberate the area, they suddenly came under German fire and were killed.

Although 67 years have passed since that summer day, the six Army soldiers never have been forgotten — not by the villagers who still consider them heroes. Not by their families who still feel the pain.

Those who knew and loved them say the men would be reluctant to dwell on their bravery.

First Lt. Jason Barron of Pennsylvania; Staff Sgt. Levy Guidry of Louisiana; Pfc. Arthur Adell Hudson of Tennessee; Pfc. Michael Koepl of Wisconsin; Pfc. Jessie Price of Texas; and Pvt. David Williams of Indiana probably would tell you they were just doing what was expected of them, relatives believe.

But to people such as Roger Bignon, their sacrifices during World War II never will be forgotten.

Bignon has lived his entire life in the farmhouse that stands within 330 yards of where the six soldiers were killed.

Today, a small stone marker honors those men and is cared for by the Frenchman and others, who decorate it with flowers and an American flag.

As a 9-year-old, Bignon remembers hearing the gunfire and a large blast on that fateful August day.

He later learned of the death of the Americans — most barely out of their teens — who were fighting to free France from German occupation.

Evidence of the conflict was found in the helmet of 1st Lt. Jason Barron, which had a small hole on one side. The helmet, bearing the soldier's name and identification number, had been discovered by villager Roger Pillu, who stored it in his home with the hope of one day being able to return it to the man's family.

That day came several years ago, with the help of modern technology known as the Internet.

Following an exhibition of artifacts from World War II that included Barron's helmet, Pillu had given the helmet to his neighbor Bignon, who asked friends for help in searching for any surviving relatives of Barron's.

Eventually, the sleuths tracked down Linda Barron Heinrich of Halfway, daughter of Emerson Barron, Jason's brother.

Heinrich then began a mission of locating relatives of the other soldiers who died with her uncle. Jason Barron is the only one buried in France.

She eventually located each soldier's family.

Last year, Emerson Barron, Linda Heinrich, her husband, Brian, and several other relatives joined Joan Eymard, the sister of Levy Guidry to reclaim the helmet.

While there, they participated in a ceremony honoring the deceased soldiers.

Since then, Bignon and family members have stayed in touch with the Americans and traveled to Louisiana to see where Levy Guidry lived.

This past week, they traveled to Somerset, Pa., to see the hometown of Jason Barron.

On Saturday, the French contingent attended a Barron reunion at Dimensions Dining in Hagerstown. Also in attendance was Joan Eymard, her husband, Hilton, and her niece, Linda Bienvenue.

"It's important for us to be here to honor the soldiers' families and, of course, the soldiers," said Valerie Bignon, the daughter-in-law of Roger Bignon, who does not speak English.

"When we organized the ceremony in France, we didn't imagine this incredible story," she said. "We are here meeting with Jason's family and Levy's family in Louisiana. It is so good to be able to do that."

Heinrich said about 156 people attended the reunion, which not only included family members, but friends and community representatives.

On Friday, Heinrich said a small group, including the French visitors, spent the day in Somerset, Jason Barron's hometown.

While she contacted all of the soldiers' families about Saturday's event, Heinrich said only Levy Guidry's family was able to attend.

"We wouldn't have missed it," said his sister, Joan Eymard. "You have to understand that we're a very close family. Now, we have another family."

Eymard said her mother never knew where Levy had died in France.

"That's why we made the journey over there several years ago," she said. "I knew we had to go."

Because she and her husband speak Cajun French, they were able to communicate with the Bignons. Now, she calls them on a monthly basis.

Eymard said she was 7 years old when her brother died and has memories of her mother receiving "a telegram telling her Levy was missing in action. Then, she received another telegram that said he had been killed in action. Can you imagine a mother holding out hope that they made a mistake with the first telegram and then receiving the second? It was unbelievably heartbreaking."

Eymard said she was old enough to remember her brother, "but, in my mind, he is still a young man. It's how I think of him always."

Emerson Barron, Jason's brother, said the trip to France, as well as Saturday's event, was extremely important to his family.

"For 62 years, we did not know the circumstances of my brother's death and didn't know if my brother's death would be forgotten," he said. "This has been a very emotional time for us."

"So many people come up to me and say, 'Now, you have closure,'" Emerson Barron said. "There is no closure."

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