50 After Hero's Death, Son Pays Tribute At His Grave
Jun. 02, 1994
ST. JAMES, France (AP) _ Sherwood Hallman Jr. gently placed a wreath for the first time on Thursday at the grave of a decorated war hero he never knew - his father, Sherwood Hallman Sr.
Four days before the 50th anniversary of D-Day, it was a journey come full circle for Sherwood Jr., a month shy of his second birthday when his father was killed in action in the fighting following the massive Normandy invasion.
''I had a lot of mixed emotions. My heart felt real heavy,'' Hallman said at his father's graveside at this American military cemetery in Normandy.
''I mourned for my father, I spoke with him,'' he said after his first-ever visit to the simple, white marble cross. ''I missed him. And I'm just so very proud of him. And I wish we could have spent some time together.''
Sherwood Sr. was a handsome, caring army sergeant of extraordinary courage, a rare Medal of Honor winner and a hero of the 29th Infantry Division.
The younger Hallman, 51, who lives in Pennsburg, Pa., has his father's rugged looks and a gentle, thoughtful demeanor.
Hallman and his mother, Virginia Hallman Reinbold of nearby Emmaus, were among 400 visiting veterans and family members of the 29th Division who stormed Omaha Beach the morning of June 6, 1944, to open the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The 29'ers spearheaded the 156,000 men who made up the largest assault force ever assembled.
The 29th lost 1,000 men in the first two days of the invasion and accounts for many of the 4,410 graves in this cemetery 220 miles west of Paris.
Two huge American and French flags were at half-staff, and pairs of small ones were in front of each grave. Veterans wore blue 29'er hats with white or yellow trim.
It was a time for all 29'ers to remember their place in history.
Sidney Smith, 73, then a lieutenant in the division's 121st Combat Engineer Battalion, recalled disaster as his outfit landed in the first waves.
''We were sent in to do de-mining, but we lost all our equipment in the water,'' he said of their flustered landing under heavy fire.
''I was dumbfounded because when we went in on Omaha Beach, there was a German division moved in a day or two before,'' said Smith, of Bradenton, Fla. ''The worst part was the wounded. As the tide was coming in, they kept saying, 'Pull me out.' But anytime you stood up to help them, you'd get shot at.''
On Sept. 13, Sherwood Sr., then 30, single-handedly captured a German machine gun nest and a dozen enemy soldiers.
The next day he was felled by a German sniper and never lived to receive his Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration awarded for exceptional bravery in engaging the enemy.
Hallman had somewhat of a reputation for heroics, recalled Daniel Relihan, a mortar operator and fellow Company F infantryman. During the pitched battle amid Normandy's hedgerows, Relihan looked up once from his foxhole to see a German soldier coming over the bushes.
''I pointed my .45 at him, even though it was all taken apart for cleaning,'' said Relihan, now 75 and living in Schenectady, N.Y. ''It was Hallman coming over with a prisoner he had captured. I just watched as he guided the guy over the hedgerow. I remember that vividly.''
For Hallman's mother, a simple ceremony by his tombstone ''was overwhelming, it was beautiful.''
Widowed twice again later in life, she said she never really got over the death of her first husband.
''There was always something missing,'' Mrs. Reinbold said. ''There were many years that went by that I thought (his death) wasn't true, that I thought he would appear on my doorstep again, and I guess I've finally been able to accept it.''
Thursday's pilgrimage was also a turning point for her son.
''I just feel like we were together again, my mother, my father and myself,'' he said. ''It was a good feeling, one I missed all my life.''