Wednesday, September 20, 2006
MY FATHER'S GRAVE
-- Roger Connor --
As the Millennium turned, when 1999 was giving way to 2000, I was at my father's grave in the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg reading him a letter I had prepared for the occasion. During that magical visit I also traveled to the field near Wardin, Belgium, where he died. I scattered dirt from the yard of his home (and mine) in Danville, Illinois, at his grave and where he died, and took dirt from those places back to Illinois to sprinkle in the many places that I know he frequented. I felt a sense of satisfaction that these important sites were now connected. This was an emotionally charged time for me.
I did not know at that time that some Luxembourgers adopt graves of American soldiers. The adopters pay special attention to the grave when visiting the cemetery, place flowers occasionally, and offer a prayer if so inclined. Adopting American soldiers' graves is a common practice at American Military Cemeteries overseas.
I am 69 and when I am gone who will visit my father? For the past six years I have been hoping to find someone who would adopt my father's grave, but I did not know how to find such a person. Then, about a year ago, AWON's webmaster Rik Peirson, told me of a Luxembourger who wanted to adopt the grave of an American soldier. That man was Rene (Rini) Majerus, who has in fact adopted my father's grave.
My wife Sharon and I had planned to go to Luxembourg during September 2006 to meet Rini, and to visit other Luxembourgers who had been so kind and helpful to me in 1999/2000. Then, out of the blue, Sharon was invited to go with a research team to Yap Island in the Western Pacific near where her father's plane went down in July 1944. I clearly recall my words to her when she told me about this remarkable opportunity to visit her dad: "You have to go!"
Our planning for the Luxembourg trip was so far along that I did not want to disappoint those who had made special plans for us. So I traveled 5500 miles east to Luxembourg and Sharon went 5000 miles west to Yap. Her story is fantastic and she has told you about it.
In Luxembourg I met Rini Majerus, his family and friends; and renewed my friendship with Denise Thill and other Luxembourgers who had done so much for me on a previous visit.
Denise Thill and Rini Majerus join me at my father's grave.
Denise Thill and Rini Majerus with George Roger Connor.
A prayer for my dad.
Among many memorable experiences was a long and scenic motorcycle ride with Rini and his friends -- the Mad Dog Bikers -- to Wardin and then on to his final resting place in the cemetery.
TAPS is played fifteen minutes before the cemetery closes, and a few minutes after that two songs from the WWII era are played on the carillon. This day the songs were "Blue Skies" and "Always." The skies were Blue and my dad will Always have the Mad Dogs. They promised me that. I was touched and comforted when they said they would continue to visit him.
Ria, Bill and Rini Majerus, and Andy Engel – Mad Dog bikers
at the edge of the field in Wardin, Belgium, where my Father's body was
found a month after he died. The snow and the seesaw battle
made this a not uncommon occurrence.
A Mad Dog – the insignia of the Mad Dogs.
Me looking rather silly in my motorcycle suit. I actually sat on the rear seat.
A Mad Dog was the driver. This is a powerful machine. At times we hit 90 mph.
On September 20, Denise drove me once again to Wardin and I walked
into the field where my father's body was found. I believe I am at or near the
coordinates given in the IDPF. I was as close as I will ever be to where he died.
That was important to me, as last time I did not actually go into the field.
I had a feeling of completion, as if a circle had been closed.
By astonishing coincidence, September 20 is Sharon's birthday, and while I was as close as I will ever be to where my dad died, she was as close as she will ever be to where her dad died -- on a boat in the Pacific Ocean near Yap Island conducting a memorial service for her father where records show his plane went down.
Since we got home, we have spent much time exchanging stories and looking at photos. I believe that her Yap trip this year has evoked emotions similar to those I experienced during my first visit to Luxembourg. Two very different journeys. Different, but for the same purpose: Honoring our fathers.
Roger with hostess Denise Thill and Helen Patton, granddaughter of General George Patton.
The pictures were provided
by Roger Connor with thanks,
in remembrance of PVT George Roger Connor. To see his tribute: Click Here!