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'To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die'

August 27, 2011|By LLOYD WATERS

It was Aug. 17, 1944, when Lt. Jason H. Barron and five of his men found themselves on the outskirts of Lougé-sur-Maire, a small French town, in the midst of World War II.

They slept little the night before, and the fighting had been intense for days. Many casualties dotted the landscape. The wounded were moaning and dying for lack of medical attention, and the holes in the earth caused by exploding tank and artillery shells were multiplying.

As the twilight softly whispered to these soldiers that a new day was approaching, perhaps Lt. Barron's first thought that morning was of home and his young wife, Eunice; maybe he thought about his mother and father, and prayed they were not worrying about him; perhaps he wondered about his brother Emerson's whereabouts and his safety.

Whatever thoughts traveled through his mind, Lt. Barron's call to duty in 1944 found him in France with the 3rd Armored (Spearhead) Division.

The horrors of war surrounded him and his comrades. Misery and despair were frequent visitors to his unit, but courage always drove them away.  

He had no more time to think about home. He had to concentrate on his survival and the welfare of his men.  

On this day, however, there was no escape from the lurking shadow that followed him onto the battlefield.

As Lt. Barron and his men sought cover behind a disabled enemy tank, he might have prayed for a more peaceful and quiet place just before the loud exploding rounds thrust the shrapnel into his helmet.  

I suspect God was listening.

Herodotus, the noted Greek historian, observed that "Death is a delightful hiding place for a weary man."

Lt. Barron and his weary men left their blood to soak on that hallowed black, fertile ground in France.

Aug. 17, 2011, marked the 67th anniversary of Lt. Barron's death on that field, but his story does not end there.

On Saturday, Aug. 20, my wife and I had the honor of attending a luncheon hosted by Lt. Barron's family for French visitors Roger and Genevieve Bignon.

Emerson Barron, Jason's brother, was there wearing his mother's gold star pin. He, too, served in World War II.  

Robert Blair, another distinguished veteran of that war, was also present.

Both can still hear those echoes and cries from the battlefield. Troublesome dreams of yesterday still come to visit them. Their eyes have seen what the tongue cannot reveal.

Linda Heinrich, Emerson's daughter and Jason's niece, and her husband and family were there, as were many others.

After Lt. Barron was killed in action on that French farm, a young lad by the name of Roger Pillu and a friend found his helmet and the bodies of the dead soldiers.  

The war helmet remained in Pillu's keeping for years until he shared its story with Roger Bignon, his neighbor.

Some 60 years later, Pillu, Bignon and others decided to try to locate the family of the American soldier who surrendered his life while helping to secure freedom for the French.

Emerson Barron and his family were found, and in the spring of 2009, the Barron family traveled to France to visit the place where Jason died. His war helmet was presented to Emerson by Pillu, who has since died.

The Barrons walked to the place Jason and his friends were killed, and visited his tomb in St. James cemetery.

The French families are forever grateful for the sacrifice made by Lt. Barron and his fallen comrades. And the Barron family will always be grateful to the Bignon family and friends for remembering Jason by returning his war helmet, and for honoring the American war dead.

In his poem "Hallowed Ground," Thomas Campbell, the Scottish poet tells us that "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die." If that be so, then Jason Barron is still very much alive.

If you would like to read the entire story of Lt. Barron and how his war helmet was returned to the Barron family, Linda Heinrich has written a book titled "Jason's Helmet." It is, indeed, a most fascinating story.

Take a moment each day to pause and remember our soldiers at war, and never forget those veterans who have given so much to protect our freedoms.

The Barron story makes us all proud to be Americans.


Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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