By Jan Lawrence
Not long ago, I was looking in drawers upstairs in my hundred-year-old house and came across a tiny plastic box with a label attached to the lid. On it was printed, “Sand from Omaha Beach D-Day June 6, 1944.”
Next to it was a pocket watch my uncle, Lawrence “Boots” Whitton, had shown me years ago. He said he carried it from the time of enlisting in the U.S. Army on March 10, 1942, at Camp Lee, Virginia until he returned to the town he grew up in, Weaverville, three and a half years later. He etched (more like “scratched”) on the back the names of some of the places he was stationed during that time, from Camp Crowder, TN, where he went to boot camp to NYC, Cardiff, Liverpool and other harder to read names. He went in as a private and by the time D-Day arrived, he was a sergeant and served as a quartermaster.
Uncle Larry was part of that “Greatest Generation” that served our country proudly but silently, and fought for the liberty of the U.S. and its allies but chose to be almost silent in recounting those tales. My family history recounted stories of the years following the war (WW II) for Uncle Larry. He returned home and for several years stayed at home and raised bantam chickens and a garden, having frequent nightmares. The nightmares finally subsided and he went to work for the NOAA Weather Bureau in Asheville, retiring several years later.
In an album, I found pictures taken of his company and him camped in the woods after D-Day. They were the men who supplied the troops who survived the landing. There are German artifacts he brought back such as a flag, bayonet and helmet. Those are just “objects.” The memories were the lasting things he returned with. He was a part of the powerful force of 1,527,000 U.S. troops deployed to Great Britain, the equivalent of well over one percent of the total U.S. population in 1944.
This one young man of twenty-five when he enlisted represented his community well. The great-great-grandson of the town’s founder and who had attended the U. S. Naval Academy for a year proudly upheld his end of the bargain. Without men like him, the “Great Crusade,” as D-Day was called might not have succeeded. I wish I had heard the story about the collecting of the sand in that tiny box. I didn’t, but I will always treasure it as the holy sand on which the blood of many patriots was shed for liberty.
Editor’s Note: Jan Lawrence is the Chairperson of the Dry Ridge Museum in Weaverville.