|Final page of company history, E Company, 16th Infantry Regiment.|
Our research today yielded nothing profound regarding Bill's life and service. Mostly, it confirmed things we already knew, adding the color of context to some details. For instance, we have a firmer timeline of where he was and when. But the document you see photographed above, one of the final things we found, might be the most meaningful item. It's the company's history, typed out late in the war, or even after the war had ended (date was uncertain). It concludes with these words: "Only one man who came overseas with Company 'E' originally is still with the organization, but all those who are or have ever been apart [sic] of it, have a right to be proud."
Only one remained.
Was that a surprise? Not really. I had seen reference to that somewhere in our research, and thought there was a chance it was hyperbole. This find would suggest it is fact.
Bill's unit had seen a lot. Part of the 1st Infantry Division, the unit left from Scotland for North Africa in October 1942. It invaded Algeria in November of that year. There was hardly a break between that operation and Tunisia, where Bill earned his first silver star. The unit trained briefly there before it was part of the invasion of Sicily. That island secured, it returned to Britain and trained for the Normandy Invasion. Bill's company E was part of the first wave on that day.
After that day, the company (and division) continued to fight. I believe it was last operating outside of Bonn, Germany.
When Eisenhower visited the division, he joked that it was a good luck charm, and he wasn't ready to let it go home yet.
The day on which Bill fell was a particularly grisly day for the unit. The regimental history discussed how Bill's Company E suffered a very high rate of casualties. Of a little more than 180 who landed that morning, 129 were dead, wounded, or missing at the end of the June 6.
|The regimental history recounts the June 6 calamity on Omaha Beach.|
We came across the actual report drawn from his commanding officer's report. We had seen Captain Ed Wozenski's thoughts before on the invasion, his anger at the ineffectual air and naval support, the chaos that ensued from being landed at the wrong spot. So, we weren't surprised by the report, just had corroboration for the thoughts Ed expressed more than a decade after the invasion when he was one of Cornelius Ryan's respondents to a questionnaire about D-Day.
One other bit of context. Lauren and I had the chance to see the original plot where Bill was buried. American servicemen were at first buried in several temporary cemeteries throughout Normandy. I believe there were eight. Bill's first grave was in plot B of the St. Laurent cemetery.
|Bill is listed in the second column from the right.|
Though this is most likely not his grave, the photo we found from the book introducing Americans to the temporary cemetery adds even more layers to the context. You may remember the presentation our group had regarding death and memory in Normandy. There's a good chance a scene like this played out at Bill's original grave.
|Residents of Normandy were the first to tend to Americans' graves. This was most often done by young women and girls in the region.|
This brings me back to context. Rather late in our research we learned of a dispute in Bill's family after the war. Bill's parents wanted his remains to remain in France. His widow wanted his body returned to the U.S. This dispute might not have been all that unusual. Families across the U.S. may have debated whether or not to have their loved one return to America. From the very beginning, where these men were to be buried and how they were to be honored was of great importance, and not just to families like the Duckworths.
Lauren will get the chance to add to a chain of remembrance that stretches back to 1944 Normandy. We don't know if Bill's parents or Audrey ever visited. We know his brother visited, though. And now Lauren has the chance to visit and remember, too.