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Names in Gold

This headstone at the Normandy American Cemetery looks like it is missing some paint. But unlike on the headstones of those who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, this isn’t gold paint at all. Before I explain, let me tell you about our connection to this soldier buried here.

 

A few years ago, my husband took a graduate history course at George Washington University. He was required to research one of the fallen at the Normandy American Cemetery. He chose an officer, Morton Eustis, for a number of reasons. One was that Morton’s family lived at Oatlands in Loudoun County, Virginia. (The estate is currently open to the public, and it is a popular wedding venue.)

 

Our tour group included other alums who had taken this same course and researched their own soldiers. Their previous work included researching all they could find, including contacting family members. In fact, one of our tour members was the grandnephew of a soldier at this cemetery. From Los Angeles, he came along at the invitation of the alum who had originally researched his great-uncle. It was remarkable to hear him speak so personally of his great-uncle, and of the loss to his extended family.

 

On our visit, we returned to each grave, and the alum retold their eulogy for their soldier. It was the most moving part of the trip for me. 

 

Each eulogy began with a ritual. The headstones, with the exception of those for Medal of Honor awardees, are entirely white marble, and it’s hard to read them unless you are up close. So the tradition at the Normandy American Cemetery is for a guide to accompany groups with a bucket of sand from Omaha Beach. Before being renamed “Omaha” by our military, this beach had a French name that included the word “gold”— the sand does look like gold. The eulogist would carefully rub the gold sand over the lettering, and then gently brush off the excess.

 

Next, the words would solemnly begin. It felt like we were transported in time, 80 years ago. Each of the fallen was a young man again. Here is a very short synopsis of my husband’s eulogy for Morton Eustis:

 

Morton was born in New York and was a graduate of the Groton School and Harvard University. His mother was from New York, and his father’s family was from Louisiana, with many French connections. When France fell, Morton was working as a theatre critic in New York City. He immediately entered the U.S. Army though the National Guard and ended up with the 2nd Armored Division in Algeria

because they needed replacements. His battalion moved on to Sicily and then back to England by spring 1944. Morton and his unit entered Normandy just a few days after D-Day. They participated in the famous Cobra breakout that pushed Nazi forces east. As the Allies continued towards Paris, Morton was leading a column of Sherman tanks as they rolled up the road to a Nazi-occupied town. He died on August 13, when they were hit by an anti-tank missile. While many families chose to have their loved one’s remains shipped home, Morton’s family chose to leave him in France with many of the other men that he had led.


They all deserve to have their names in gold, and that day, about ten more did. At least until the rain washed it away. Still, their names are always golden in our hearts.

 

Mother Nina+

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