Understanding Sacrifice – Day 5 – Normandy, What now?

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Joe Boyle

Morrison R. Waite High School

Toledo, Ohio

What Now?

It was the echoing sentiment in my mind as I walked back to French researcher Jean Paul Pitou’s car from the spot where my Uncle Paul was killed on July 26, 1944.

Joe - 5

What now?

In 1997, I began researching Sgt. Paul Boyle’s life, service in the 331st Regiment, and death as part of my senior thesis at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. That small paper kindled a fire within me to learn as much as I could about him.

As the wonder of the internet brought more and more documents out into the open, I fit together pieces of the puzzle throughout the 2000s: promotion dates, after-action reports, family letters, relatives’ stories, enlistment records, morning reports. All of them fleshed out the picture. But none of them gave me that last piece to make the picture complete: Exactly where was Paul, when he ordered his squad to hold their position, and was slain by a German sniper’s bullet?

For the past three years, as I have dealt with the Damoclean sword of a cancer diagnosis over my head, my research intensified. It was imperative I finish this, and quickly. In April, I went to the National Archives at College Park, facility. I found map overlays of Paul’s company’s position on the morning of July 26. An archivist helped me bring the box of map overlays up to the cartographic section. I placed the overlay on top of the map, and held my breath.

And there it was. In color. Definitively. The last piece of the puzzle. All I had to do was place it.

Around noon on July 20, with Jean Paul, the mayor of Auxais, and the farmer on whose field Paul died, I placed a sunflower near a ditch where two hedges used to connect.

Joe - 2

I rubbed my hands in that hallowed soil.  I took in the lush greenness of the edge of this fertile cornfield, interspersed with field daisies and lavender. I listened to the bees. Smelled the wildflowers. Felt the milkweed sting my hands. I cried; tears of joy for finally, after nearly twenty years of research, finding Paul’s spot. I cried tears of sadness for Paul’s too-short life. And to some degree, I cried the same tears a quarterback would cry after winning a Super Bowl, and deciding to retire after the game.

Finding Paul gave me a sense of purpose, and a sense of mission for a very long time. In the course of a late morning in Normandy, it was over.

What now?

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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