MCMAINS-Robert-L ArchivesArchiver > MCMAINS-Robert > 2006-11 > 1162808037
From: "John Hewes" <>
Subject: [MCMAINS-ROBERT] The Young Who Died Delivered Us
Date: Mon, 06 Nov 2006 03:13:57 -0700
I received this from a cousin, and thought I would share it with all of you.
It doesn't have to do directly with the McMains surname, but definitely is a
genealogical issue. It is very touching.
The young who died delivered us
By Christopher Scanlan
The Mercedes taxi sped along the country highway. For the tenth time since
we left Paris that June morning, I looked at the piece of paper in my hand.
U.S. Military Cemetery.
9 miles west of St. Lo.
Row D Grave 10
Pfc. John Juba Jr. Inf. 4 Div.
Killed Aug. 4, 1944. 20 years old.
That was all I knew about the man whose grave my wife and I were
on the way to visit. Kathy and I were on a delayed honeymoon in Europe, a
month-long trip that had already taken us to Germany, Holland and Paris.
Now, with a week left before we headed home, we were making good on a
promise to a friend back home.
Pat Callahan didnt know much about John Juba either; his
half-brother had been killed before he was born. Pat didnt know how he died;
only that he was buried in France in a grave no one in the family had ever
seen. He asked if my wife and I would mind visiting the cemetery on our
vacation, maybe take a picture of the gravestone for his mother.
If its on your own, of course, Pat said when he handed me the
directions, and that was how we left it.
It wasnt on our way, as it turned out, but all through our
vacation the X marked beside Marigny on our map of France nagged at us. I'd
never met Pats mother. Was she wondering if we'd found the cemetery? Did she
wait to hear what the place where her son was buried looked like? In the
end, we didnt want to disappoint a woman who'd lost her first son in a war
and never had the chance to pray at his grave. The day after we arrived in
Paris we set out by train for Marigny, about 300 miles to the west.
Four hours later, the taxi we hired at the St. Lo station raced
through the rolling Normandy countryside, quickly eating up the nine miles
left of our journey. For the first time that day I began to relax. We'd find
the grave, take some pictures and make it back to Paris for a boat ride on
the Seine without any problem.
I didnt know there were any Americans buried in Marigny anymore,
the taxi driver said over his shoulder.
I was still trying to explain, in my rusty French, about the
directions in my hand and how there had to be an American cemetery there
because that's where this soldier was buried, when the cabbie turned off the
highway toward Marigny and pointed to a sign planted in a grassy traffic
German military cemetery, it said in French and German. Kathy
and I were staring at each other now, beginning to panic. They just don't
pick up cemeteries and move them, I said. It's got to be there.
We came to a sleepy Main Street of stone shops, and the cabbie
stopped to consult a woman on the sidewalk.
American cemetery? she said, Yes, there used to be one outside
of town, but it's not there anymore. There are only Germans there now.
I wasn't ready to give up yet. Maybe the Americans are buried
with the Germans, I suggested to the driver. He shook his head, but drove
on. A few miles out of town, on a narrow road that wound its way through
apple orchards and pastures, he turned onto a dirt driveway and pulled up in
front of a tall, stone fence.
Behind it, we found a tree-shaded meadow lined with neat rows of
yellow rosebushes, like Normandys hedgerows, stretching to the horizon. This
was a curious cemetery.
There werent many gravestones visible, just groups of brown
crosses set in a row and staggered among the rosebushes. The graves 11,169
of them, we learned from a brochure in the chapel were marked by stone
rectangles set into the earth. We only needed to read a few of the names
inscribed on them Heinz, Friedrich, Gunther to realize that our search for
John Jubas grave hadn't ended. It had just begun.
I think it was about 15 years ago they moved all the American
graves, the cabbie told us on the way back to St. Lo. As far as I know,
theres only one American cemetery in Normandy now. Its a big one up north at
Colleville sur Mer, on the shore. You could take a train to Bayeux and get a
taxi out there. Its only about 30 kilometers.
We were hot, tired and hungry, but neither of us wanted to stop
yet. We got on another train, and in less than an hour, a taxi deposited us
in front of the visitors building at the Normandy American Cemetery and
In the office we found Pedro Rivera, a New Mexico native who was
the cemeterys superintendent, and asked for his help. Yes, he told us, there
had been an American cemetery at Marigny nonce, but it was a temporary one.
After the war, the graves were moved to permanent cemeteries like this one
perched on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel.
He reached up to a wall shelf lined with half a dozen thick,
black books, pulled one down and began flipping pages lined with columns of
tiny print. If John Juba were buried overseas, Rivera said, his name would
be in here. The books contained the names of American war dead buried
overseas or commemorated as unknown or missing 35,000 names from World War I
and more than 182,000 from World War II.
American war dead like in cemeteries around the world, Rivera
told us, but a Normandy casualty could be found in only two places. Here, on
the site of the largest amphibious assault in the history of the world, or
in another cemetery about 60 miles south, in the province of Brittany.
Here he is, the superintendent said, his finger stopping at the
bottom of a page. John Juba Jr. He was a Pfc. He paused and then looked up
Oh, I'm sorry, he said. He's in Brittany.
At least well be able to tell his mother where he is buried, I
told Kathy outside the visitors building. She nodded, but we were both
disappointed. We had a few hours to catch our train back to Paris, so we
strolled in the cemetery, mixing with the crowds of schoolchildren, families
of tourists and a contingent of French soldiers. The cemetery draws more
than a million people a year, Rivera told us.
We passed by a 22-foot bronze statute of a young man. The Spirit
of American youth rising from the Waves. The dead at Normandy like under a
carpet of grass kept green by lawn sprinklers waving back and forth over the
white-marble headstones, 9,386 of them, set in single-file rows that reach t
infinity. Beyond them, we came to the cliffs of Normandy and gazed down at
the beach hundreds of yards below.
From books and movies, I knew something about the history made
on this spot, but it was hard to imagine it then.
It was raining on D-Day. Today the sun was warm, the sky as blue
as the water and dotted with puffy white clouds. Not an armada of ships,
just a single sailboat; no dead, jut a lone family sunbathing on the beach.
You know, if we stop now, Kathy said, all we can bring back is
what they gave us in the first place an address.
I was surprised she wanted to go on. By now, we knew that
visiting John Jubas grave was going to mean spending another vacation day
doing it. Wed have to return to Paris first and then set out again this time
I wouldnt blame you if you wanted to quit, I said. We tried.
I know, she said, but we can't stop now. She smiled. Its become
a pilgrimage, like going to Lourdes.
The train to Paris was crowded, and we had to take seats apart.
Kathy sat opposite two American college kids who, it turned out, had been at
Normandy that day too. Omaha Beach attracted them for a reason different
from ours though.
We went, said the taller of the pair, otherwise identical in
shorts and nylon backpacks, to lie on the beach, you know, catch some rays.
John Juba was 18 years old about the same age as these two
college kids when he was drafted out of trade school in 1942. Everyone
called him Johnny. He loved to play football and baseball. He was engaged to
a girl named Dorothy.
We didnt know any of this when we were searching for his grave.
It wasnt until we returned home that I learned more about him from his
mother, Mrs. Ann Callahan, 76, who lives in the Hartford Park Housing
Project in Providence.
Johnny grew up in New Kensington, Pa., where the family lived at the time.
He wasnt happy to be drafted, his mother said. But she recalled a letter he
once wrote from overseas.
Id rather be here, he wrote, than see a man that has a family.
He stepped on a mine and it blew his legs off, his mother said.
He was still alive in the hospital, but when he found he lost his legs, the
shock killed him,
It was raining two days later when we stepped out of a taxi at
the gate to the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial. There was no one in
sight and the visitors building was locked. We were headed for the graves
when I realized that I had forgotten to bring flowers.
It had taken 37 years for someone to visit John Jubas grave and
I wanted it to be a special occasion. Kathy was right. This was a
pilgrimage, a journey to the grave of a soldier who could have been anyones
son, brother, father, husband. In some unspoken way, I felt that we had
become h is family, at least for this one day, and I knew that his family
would have brought flowers.
Wait here, I told Kathy and set off the rural highway in search
of wildflowers. I was about to settle for a flowering carrot weed when I
heard a radio through the open window of a stone farmhouse and saw beside it
a garden bursting with white roses and snapdragons.
The old man who answered the back door wore scuffed black clogs,
gardening clothes and a cap. His apple cheeks were whiskery with white
stubble. I had interrupted his lunch; behind him, in the spartan, stone
kitchen, a bowl of bread, cheese and cherries sat on a table covered with an
In my clumsy French, I told him about our search for the
American soldiers grave and asked for permission to pick a few flowers from
his garden. He turned away without a word.
I was about to leave myself ready to believe that the French do
hate all Americans when he reappeared with a pair of pruning shears. He
waved away my suggestion of payment. Bring your wife back with you after
youve seen the grave, he said. Well visit and drink some wine.
The graves at Brittany lie beyond the Wall of the Missing 4,313
white crosses and Stars of David lined up on a manicured field like a
marching band at half time. Five varieties of grass keep it green all year
round. The cemetery was empty and so quiet we could hear the rain falling on
the flower beds bordering the graves.
Granite stones in the grass marked each section. I saw one
labeled D on the right and ran over, excited and nervous at the same time.
What if he wasnt here either?
Over here, I yelled to Kathy, a hundred yards behind me. I
cringed as my shout broke the stillness, and a man appeared in the window of
a house next door. Within moments he emerged, a middle-aged man in a tan
raincoat who introduced himself as Donald Davis, the superintendent of the
D-10-8, he said. Thats right down here. He led us down nine rows
of graves, turned down the tenth and began to count off crosses. At the
eighth, we stopped and found John Jubas name cut into the white marble.
I laid the flowers in front of the cross and knelt to take a
picture for his other.
Wait. Davis bent down and turned the bouquet around so the
flowers faced the camera. Otherwise, all youll get is a picture of the
stems. Every trade had its secrets.
Rest in peace, John, I said under my breath.
The old Frenchman was outside trimming his rosebushes when we
returned. He invited us into the kitchen, where the air was tangy with wood
smoke, and poured port wine into three china cups.
His name was Piere Letranchant. He was 72 years old and for most
of his life had lived in this farm country outside St. James. His wifes
family, in fact, had once owned the 27 acres of land where John Juba was
buried. It had been a dairy farm until the Americans bought it after the
The cemetery was quiet most of the time, he said, except on the
last day of May when crowds come. Thats one of your holidays, isnt it?
But young people like you, he said, shaking his head, they never
come to visit. The young have forgotten all this. He didnt sound angry, just
a little sad.
What have they forgotten? we asked.
That the young who died delivered us, he said. The young, they
should come here.