Edward W. Smalley sat quietly in the superintendent’s office of the Brittany American Cemetery. He was dressed head to foot in an American Legion honor guard uniform.
The senior vice commander of Post 277 in Indian Orchard, Mass., was not there simply to see American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger during his visit to the cemetery where more than 4,000 World War II heroes are laid to rest. Smalley was there for more personal reasons.
“My dad and uncle are buried out here,” he explained. “They were killed 10 days apart in the Normandy campaign. This is my first time here.”
Smalley never knew his father, and his mother lost her life shortly after giving birth to him. “Thank goodness for my Polish grandmother and grandfather, and all my aunts and uncles who took care of me.”
Smalley stood solemnly by as Dellinger and American Legion Auxiliary National President Nancy Brown-Park placed wreaths at the cemetery about 70 kilometers south of the more famous Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. The Brittany cemetery – which is in southern Normandy – is the final resting place primarily of US Army troops who died fighting inland after the beach assaults.
Smalley’s father, 317th Infantry Division Pvt. Edward Smalley, and his uncle, Tech Sgt. Francis Smalley of the 360th Engineers, both came ashore on Utah Beach and helped secure the Cotentin Peninsula before they were killed.
Edward Smalley said the cost of coming to France had prohibited him from seeing his father’s grave until this year, the 70th anniversary of the invasion.
“It’s miraculous,” he said of the lesser-visited World War II cemetery in Normandy. “It’s humbling. I see their graves. What gets me more is to see all the other graves, all the white crosses. People don’t realize what happened here. They have to come see it.”
At the closing of the Brittany cemetery for the day, a US Coast Guard honor guard lowered the two American flags and presented them to Commander Dellinger and Lawrence Brannan of Morristown, Tenn., a D-Day veteran who is in Normandy this week with the American Legion group.