Local couple turned away from D-Day memorial in France
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Winston-Salem residents Danny and Betty Ferguson were astounded Thursday when they found out that, because of the national government shutdown, they could not visit veterans’ graves at Omaha Beach in France.
It turns out that the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is one of 24 U.S. military cemeteries overseas that has been closed since Monday because of the partial U.S. government shutdown.
“One of my main reasons for making this quite expensive journey was to fulfill a long-held dream of honoring our local heroes … by placing a red rose on each grave,” Danny Ferguson said in an email to the Journal. “Soon after our arrival at the closed gate, busloads of other Americans pulled up. They too were totally outraged; many of (them were) on their once-in-a-lifetime trip.”
Prevented from going inside the cemetery, the visitors placed red roses on the pavement in front of the locked cemetery gate and called out the names, ranks and home counties of those they had come to honor.
The American Battle Monuments Commission was set up after World War I. About 125,000 servicemen and women are buried in its overseas cemeteries, and there are monuments to another 94,000 missing military personnel.
Ferguson said that he had been in Italy before traveling to France and Omaha Beach, so he may not have been fully aware of the government shutdown, and at any rate he never thought it might include a cemetery in France.
As the visitors learned of the cemetery’s closure someone from the Reuters news agency and a Finnish news producer filmed them as they put out the roses.
“The moment was bittersweet,” Ferguson said. “Although it was an honor to be there for these brave Americans who died for our freedom, it was sad to see our government in a political ploy show so much disrespect to our heroic fathers and grandfathers.”
On the commission’s website, a message stated that because of a lack of money not only were the cemeteries closed but other services provided by the commission would not be available. They include help in visiting an overseas grave, photographs of the grave and placement of flowers.
The Normandy cemetery has the graves of 9,387 military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings in 1944.
Ferguson said the roses were intended for the graves of Stokes County residents Jimmy L. Overcash and Thomas H. Shelor, and for the graves of Forsyth County residents Willie G. Myers and Early A. Brown. The Fergusons also wanted to honor the soldiers from Bedford, Va., a town that had the highest per-capita loss of life on D-Day among its enlisted personnel.
Ferguson said that he could be distantly related to Brown but that he’s not sure.
“Our actual reason for this … was our love for our country and to encourage others to appreciate what it has taken to build it,” he said.
By Wesley Young/Winston-Salem Journal