By Dottie Dewberry For the WPT
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal.” Anon. On Aug. 19, 1944, at 9:10 a.m. Maj. Henry W. Shurlds Jr. journeyed home to be with God.
This took place in Verneuil, France, during World War II, where his plane (a P-47 Thunderbolt) was shot down by German fighter pilots.
Death may have taken Maj. Henry W. Shurlds Jr., but his memory has lived on in his family. Maury Shurlds of Maben, Henry W. Shurlds III and Henry W. Shurlds IV traveled to the city of Verneuil sur-Seine, France, on June 3, where they met with Monsieur Georges Remy, a driving force behind the project of memorializing Maj. Shurlds, an American WWII war hero.
Maury Shurlds remembers the bravery, kindness and care shown his family back in August of 1944, and when they (the French) contacted his family in 1947 concerning his brother H.W. Shurlds Jr.’s demise. Between 1944 and 1947, E. Grullof, a citizen of the town and one that was there at the crash, wrote to Maj. Shurlds’ wife, which was returned because of an incorrect address.
Then Grullof finally got the right address and wrote again in 1947. He told the family that the citizens took up money for flowers, a casket and an undertaker. The funeral was held at the St. Martin’s Catholic Church at no charge. They buried him in the town cemetery. What a tribute. Maury Shurlds says that in the letter the French wanted to make sure that the U.S. government had notified the family.
It was in 1994 before Maury Shurlds could travel to Verneuil and meet Monsieur Georges Remy, who witnessed the plane crash and rushed to the scene in 1944; this is when more renewed interest was revived in the crash of Maj. Shurlds’ airplane and when more searching for parts was done at the crash site.
This is where the clock from the plane was located and they were able to determine the time of Maj. Shurlds’ death. This clock was presented to Maury Shurlds’ son, Henry III, on June 5, 1994, by Monsieur Nicolas Vecchi, who had found the clock using a metal detector when he was searching the site of the plane crash.
Mr. Shurlds said that when Monsieur Remy got the full support of the Honorable Philippe Tautou, the mayor of Verneuil, this project moved more quickly.
The project was to erect a stele (monument) in memory of Maury’s brother.
The monument bears his name, rank, units and the date of his death. This monument is 4 feet wide, 10 feet tall and is made of Mississippi wood. It is unique in all of France. A tulip poplar tree has been planted at the site of the crash. It is to take the place of the huge poplar tree, which marks the present site, when it dies.
Mr. Shurlds says the dedication ceremonies were held June 5, 2012, and that they were impressive. Three Shurlds men, 40 flag bearers, some 100 officials and other citizens gathered to memorialize this young 24-year-old who fought the Nazi pilots to his death over the Verneuil forests.
Mr. Shurlds remembers emotionally the trip back to the vans after the ceremony, where they shook hands with French veterans who had participated in a war or in some other United Nations peacekeeping event. He says he is now a member of their organization and proudly wears the U.N. button.
One gift he received was a two-volume history of the town of Verneuil sur-Seine in which a segment about his brother is written. He also received the release mechanism of Henry’s parachute and a beautiful red, white and blue sash with a golden cord to be worn diagonally across the shoulder.
The day ended with a delightful five-course lunch for about 30 selected guests of Mayor Tautou in an upscale restaurant on the Seine River. He was accompanied by Lt. Col. Darren Easton, attaché de l’Air Adjoint of the Ambassade des Etats-Unis d’Amerique, who could read the menu and speak fluent French.
On June 6, they traveled to St. Laurent Cemetery and Omaha Beach, where some 2,400 American soldiers bled and died in the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, exactly 68 years before. Several hundred people were gathered for the memorial at the 172-acre cemetery, which houses 9,400 American soldiers.
The rows, diagonals and columns are endlessly straight of Christian crosses and Stars of David. Everything was immaculately kept and landscaped, a tribute to the pride, care and dignity we Americans place on the lives of our military personnel.
Mr. Shurlds says as they walked to his brother’s cross that he felt no sense of arriving at his brother’s final destination; only his remains are there. What he has are the memories of his brother and the times that he saw him last: 1942 and in 1944. Love makes the memories that death cannot take away.
“The price of freedom is costly, and I fear we have too many of our citizens in this day who are unaware of this.” Maury Shurlds.
At the end, they traveled back to St. Martin’s Catholic Church, where Henry’s name is listed. They then lit a candle there in memory of him and for the French funeral held for him on Aug, 21, 1944.
He also purchased flowers for the grave of Madame Paulette Remy (Georges’ wife), who had passed away 3½ years previously.
He and Georges promised to not wait another 18 years before they met again. One is 86 and the other is 90, respectively. Who knows — maybe they will.
Shurlds returns with a Verneuil newspaper account of the memorial ceremony, which will be treasured by his family forever.
Last, but not least, they saw the statue of Venue de Milo and painting of the Mona Lisa at the Lourve, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, which leads from the Place de la Concorde on the east to the Arc De Triomphe on the west at the Place Charles de Gaulle, just like tourists. This is definitely a trip that will be remembered forever.