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The Green Fields of France

The Green Fields of France
By U.S. Army Capt. James A. Anderson, FCRH ’06

U.S. Army Capt. James A. Anderson, FCRH '06, recently visited two American military cemeteries in France where nine Fordham alumni veterans are buried, including William P. Dooley, who was killed in action in October 1944.
The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), established by Congress in 1923 to commemorate the achievements and sacrifices of U.S. service members, maintains 24 overseas burial sites, where more than 124,900 veterans are interred. During a recent assignment to U.S. Army Europe, I made it a personal goal to visit as many ABMC sites and memorials as possible.

My name is James A. Anderson. I am a captain in the U.S. Army and a 2006 graduate of Fordham College at Rose Hill. As a child, I developed a deep love for history through the lessons of my father, a history teacher. As a family, we visited Revolutionary and Civil War sites every summer, from Pennsylvania to Arizona. My love for history continued to grow during my time at Fordham under the tutelage of Professor Elaine Crane and others.

Before I deployed to Iraq in 2007, my wife, parents and I visited our first ABMC site, the American Cemetery in Romagne, France, where more than 14,000 American soldiers and Marines, many of whom were killed in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive during World War I, are buried. Walking among the crosses and Stars of David marking these burial sites was a solemn but deeply moving experience for all of us.

Last summer, following my 15-month deployment to Iraq, I was stationed in Germany, with an ever-greater desire to visit the ABMC cemeteries. My parents purchased for me a pristine copy of the ABMC’s 1927 manual American Armies and Battlefields in Europe, which was an invaluable guide as my wife and I toured the U.S. battlefields of World War I.

Still seeking to develop a more meaningful connection to the sites we were visiting, I decided to contact my hometown’s historical society and Fordham’s Office of Alumni Relations. Unfortunately, the historical society was unable to provide any leads. My luck changed considerably, however, after contacting the alumni office. They immediately put me in touch with Patrice Kane, head of archives and special collections at Fordham’s William D. Walsh Family Library. She provided me with a list of Fordham students, faculty and alumni who perished in the World Wars.

Using the Fordham list and the ABMC database, I was able to identify three Fordham soldiers buried at the World War I St. Mihiel American Cemetery and six additional Fordham veterans buried at the World War II Lorraine American Cemetery. Having recently been selected for assignment with U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, my wife and I would be leaving Germany in a few short weeks. Before we moved, however, we wanted to make one last trip to France. 

St. Mihiel American Cemetery
When we arrived at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery, my wife and I spoke with the superintendent, who provided us with a brief overview of the offensive. The battle for the St. Mihiel salient was the first major American offensive of World War I, featuring what was, at the time, the largest concentration of American airpower and armored forces. The battle was an overwhelming success—though not without cost. The U.S. forces sustained more than 7,000 casualties, of which 4,153 can be found in the American cemetery.

The cemetery is pristinely maintained, with leafy green Linden trees, glistening marble crosses, a sundial mounted on a marble American eagle, and a stunning statue of a young American infantry officer. The first Fordham Ram we located was Corporal James P. McGovern, of New Jersey, who died in September 1918. We took a few photos of the gravesite, and I paused for a moment of reflection, one Fordham veteran to another. We repeated this small ritual at the grave of Corporal Livingston O’Toole, of New York, killed in October 1918, and again at the site of Sergeant Richard T. Martin, of New Jersey, killed in September 1918.

Each of these veterans was from either the 77th or 78th Divisions, both comprised of recruits from the tri-state region. Our only regret was that we had not been able to purchase flowers to place at the gravesites.

The following morning we visited a friendly florist in the city of Metz, just around the corner from a monument to Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker, commanding general of the XX U.S. Army Corps, which liberated the city in 1944. Having secured a dozen yellow roses, we pushed on to the American Lorraine Cemetery in St. Avold, France.

St. Avold is six miles from the German border, meaning that many of the 10,489 American soldiers buried there died while fighting in eastern France and during operations in Germany in the final months of World War II. Buried in the 113 acres of rolling ground that comprise Lorraine Cemetery are six Fordham alumni soldiers.

As we arrived at the cemetery on a warm June day, we witnessed something special: the closing actions of a commemoration conducted by a group of French and German veterans. Honor guards stood watch as representatives of both groups laid wreaths on the ground. We felt both surprised and privileged to see former enemies honoring each other and the American soldiers who helped to liberate France and defeat Germany.

Our first stop at the cemetery was at the Tablets for the Missing, a monument to the brave soldiers who still have no known grave. While I had been unable to find any definitive list of service members from my hometown of Lindenhurst, N.Y., the village’s annual Memorial Day Ceremony had honored the service of a Private Edward J. Bulin, a combat engineer who was listed as missing in action in October 1944. My wife and I were able to locate his name on the Tablets of the Missing. We photographed his memorial after placing a single rose near his name.

Statue of an American infantry officer at the St. Mihiel American cemetery.
Photos courtesy of Capt. James A. Anderson
We then called upon the Fordham men interred in the cemetery: Private John V. Cummings, of New York, killed in late March 1945; Corporal William P. Dooley, an artilleryman killed in October 1944; Lieutenant James P. Kenny, of New York, a member of the 668th Bomber Squadron who earned an Air Medal wiht 11 Gold Stars; Master Sergeant Vincent P. Kelly, of Connecticut, who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while serving with the 63rd Infantry Division; Staff Sergeant John F. Rothengast, of the 116th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, who was killed in April 1945; and finally, Private First Class Joseph M. Appert, of New Jersey, killed in October 1944 while serving with the 80th Infantry Division.

Each of these brave Fordham men had a story to tell, a story of bravery, suffering and the ultimate sacrifice for their country. As we walked from grave to grave, leaving behind our roses, we passed the names of soldiers from every part of the country, California to Maine, soldiers who had died only days before the war ended, soldiers of all ranks and backgrounds, soldiers who remain unknown, buried beneath the inscription, “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms, known but to God.”

Walking the rows of crosses and stones in search of the Fordham alumni veterans made me fully appreciate the sacrifice all of these men had made. Many, perhaps, had never received a single visitor in the decades since they fell in the green fields of France. Many, perhaps, had never been visited by family members grieving openly for lost sons, fathers and brothers.

In many ways, our small commemoration felt just that—small, insignificant, not nearly enough to express our gratitude for what these men had done for our country and for the generations they never lived to see.

As we approach this Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, let us all reflect for a moment and remember the millions of men and women who have defended our country. When called to serve, they served; and when the moment required it, they made the ultimate sacrifice for their loved ones and country. By honoring them, we can ensure that, as General John J. Pershing once said, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

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