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Donna M. Knechtel Paszek
Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to France and Monty, Belgium, the place where my Uncle, Oliver A. Simmers, died on January 2, 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge. Oliver was in Company A,
21st. Armored. Inf. BN, 11th Armored Division. But this story is not about him or his experiences. It is, instead, the story of a “little French girl” named Josy.
When my Uncle died my Grandmother was, understandably, devastated and extremely distraught that her baby boy was buried so far from home. She wrote to the military asking if there was anyone who would put flowers on his grave for her. A young French girl by the name of Josy volunteered. She wrote to my Grandmother and sent pictures of the cross with the flowers and told her a little about herself. The following is an excerpt from an article in the Pittsburgh newspaper:
“There was a package of appreciation on the way to France today for "one little French girl - Josy" who hasn't forgotten the American boys resting on European battlefields. The package, including nylons and clothing, was for caring for the grave of a Pittsburgh soldier who fell in Belgium, Jan. 2, 1945.
In a recent letter to Mrs. Earl Simmers of 4411 Milgate St., Josy included pictures of the flowers she placed beside the cross marking the resting place of the Bloomfield mother's son, PFC. Oliver A. Simmers who was 23 years old.
"I go very often to pay visits to your son's grave . . . receive, Madam Simmers, all my sympathies," wrote Josy Simon of Muerthe et Moselle. "I know that many American families have heard nothing from their soldiers . . . Your son is buried in a very nice cemetery (Grand-Failly, U. S. Military grounds)." The letter was signed - "from your little French girl - Josy."
"It does your heart good to know that there's someone so far away in the world who understands what a mother feels about her son," Simmers said. She added, "I'll never forget my little French girl." Mr. and Mrs. Simmers plan to bring their son home to Allegheny Cemetery as soon as transportation can be arranged. Meanwhile, Josy is doing her part to help ease a mother's mind.”
Josy placed flowers and wreaths on his grave until arrangements were made to bring him home to his final resting-place with the family in December of 1948. Josy and Mary remained friends exchanging letters, photographs and gifts over the years but were never able to meet. Josy went on to marry and have three children, the first of whom she named Oliver. Her daughter was named Mary after my Grandmother. My Grandmother passed away in 1980 but our families have remained friends throughout the years. In September of 2002 my husband and I traveled to France and were the guests of Oliver and his wife, Mary Rose, for 2 weeks, visiting with Josy and the family for several days. Josy is no longer the “little French girl” but a dynamic, active, cheerful 81 year old woman who treated us like royalty. We visited the place where my uncle was buried and while it was sad to think of his dying it was heartening to see the beautiful vista from the site of the cemetery and to know he was cared for so lovingly.
The cemetery in Grand Failly, which was located about 10 miles North of Verdun, no longer exists. The soldiers who were not returned home were moved to Saint-Avold east of Metz. What was once a field of crosses is now a field of corn. However, the French people of the nearby towns erected a memorial to the soldiers who died in defense of their country. The dedication reads: “Here rested in peace 2967 American soldiers from December 1944 to 1949. These brave men made the ultimate sacrifice during the Ardennes Offensive. They will always have our utmost respect, admiration and remembrance.” A modest memorial in a small town but reflecting the gratitude of the people. Every year there is a Memorial Service held at this site for the American’s who died and Josy and her husband Roger proudly stand with those honoring our servicemen, with Josy holding a picture of PFC Oliver A. Simmers.
I have not been able to find anyone who personally knew Oliver Simmers and I would love to hear from anyone who would have even a slight memory of him. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Donna M. Paszek
42 Magill Drive
Cheswick PA 15024
In closing, I would like to thank all those who participated in World War II. The people of the United States owe you an eternal debt of gratitude.
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