Ceremony honours fallen US soldiers in all-but-forgotten WWII battle

Ceremony honours fallen US soldiers in all-but-forgotten WWII battle
By Laurence Alexandrowicz
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It might have been forgotten if it wasn't for some painstaking research.


In June and August, ceremonies were held in Normandy and Provence to mark the anniversaries of two D-Day operations that spelt the beginning of the end for the Nazi regime's occupation of France. 

But many other bloody battles were fought around the same time right up until the eventual surrender of the Third Reich on March 8, 1945.

One of those was in Parroy forest, near Lunéville, in north-eastern France, where about 400 US soldiers lost their lives.

They would have been all but forgotten if it hadn't been for Philippe Sugg and Gerard Louis. The two friends have been crisscrossing the forest since they were 10, unearthing some 25,000 artefacts from the two most devastating wars of the 20th century, as well as 43 bodies.

This weekend, the US awarded them a very rare civil honour for their research work, in a ceremony attended by some 30 American families who had travelled there to honour their relatives' sacrifice.

"It's a forgotten battle," Sugg said. "Lorraine's battle lasted six months, in Normandy, it was two months. And the conditions were much more difficult. In Normandy it was sunny, here there was mud, cold, rain, and it lasted from August the 28th to March the 16th 1945."

Clayton Hellums was one of the US soldiers who died in the northeastern French forest.

His remains were found in 2003 but it took another three years for him to be properly identified.

"I personally found Clayton Hellums. He was identified, he went back home, and now, what’s moving is that on this stone their names are written for eternity," Louis told Euronews.

When Hellums was recruited, he was living with his family on a small farm in northern Mississippi. In the spring of 1943, then based in Indiana, he met Martha, his future fiancée.

She was 18, he was 27. At Christmas, they got engaged, and in January 1944, he embarked for England to prepare for D-Day. He was certain he wouldn’t come back from this war. He died on October 9, 1944.

Exactly 66 years after his death he was buried in the United States with military honours.

Harriet Wright, Clayton's niece, was among those who had made the trip for the ceremony.

"A woman called and told us that a gentleman in France had found a plaque with written: corporal Clayton Hellums and a serial number on it, and Martha engraved on the inside. We knew it was true because Martha was his fiancée when he left, and that was out of the records," she explained.

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