Six feet of dirt and a world of sacrifice

Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2023

By Harold Brummett

I traveled with my parents back in the late 1990s to Europe. This was a tour of all the old 35th Division battlefields from Normandy to Berlin and where parts of the division were farmed out for occupation duty.

In the countryside of France and Belgium these old liberators were greeted with smiles, handshakes and kisses. The Germans were a bit more reserved, not unfriendly but just reserved.

Email newsletter signup

On June 6, the tour had us seated in an area next to the cemetery at Normandy for a memorial ceremony. There was a large crowd and just retired Chief of Staff of the Army Gordon Sullivan gave the remarks.

During his remarks, General Sullivan kept referring to these young men buried here. It was there that I realized for the first time that these young men will be forever 17, 18, 19 or whatever age they were when they were killed storming the beach.

I looked at my own father sitting there listening. His jet-black hair fading to grey and his ice blue eyes focused on the General. The realization of the miracle of him surviving to the end of the war shook me.

I had known that out of his infantry platoon, only him and two others were still with the platoon at the end of the war and Audley had been wounded and sent back to his platoon. When stationed at Fort Leavenworth I had looked up some of the statistics for the 35th Division and knew that they had a 165 percent replacement rate for the war.

General Sullivan once again referred to these young men buried here and I looked around at the rows of white Crosses and Stars of David in perfect rows.

As the tour continued through France and into Belgium, I noticed a man who was about 15 years my senior by himself on the tour. Too young to be a World War Two veteran and too somber to be a tourist, inquiries were made and soon the story came out.

As the man told the story it turns out his father was an ambulance driver and during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans captured and then killed this man’s father. As best as it could be determined he was born about the same time his father was killed.

Fifty veterans adopted the man; he gained 50 fathers on that tour. We eventually made it to the American cemetery in Belgium and the white crosses stood somber in their perfect rows. The father’s grave was found and the old veterans escorted him to the gravesite.

They stood around the man in an almost perfect circle, those nearest patting the man on the back and mumbled words of condolence and support.

The man went down on one knee and rested his head on the cross. The old veterans moved silently away giving space and peace to this father and son. The man spent a long while kneeling there on the grave of a father he never met and who had given his life for a son he never knew.

We watched from a distance, silent and respectful as we all knew six feet of dirt was as close as they ever would come to each other.

This Memorial Day remember the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who are forever young and families and friends who live with memories.

Write to Harold Brummett at