Honoring a Fallen Warrior
Omaha Beach June 6, 1944
On June 7, 1944, the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division crossed Omaha Beach through the carnage left by the previous day’s landings. In the weapons platoon of a rifle company in the 38th Infantry Regiment was a thirty one year old soldier from the small farming community in Middle Tennessee where I lived.
PFC Woodrow Wilson Winfree had literally dropped the plow and taken up arms to defend our country. The 2nd Division moved inland where it joined other U.S. Divisions in the effort to destroy the German Army.
On July 15, 1944, PFC Winfree’s company was engaged in heavy fighting in the St. Lo area, where the Germans were making a determined stand. His company was attempting to take a hill from the Germans. According to eye-witnesses, PFC Winfree raised up from his position as a machine gunner to get a better view of the terrain ahead. It was a fatal move. A German sniper killed him instantly. Graves Registration buried his body on the battlefield the next day.
Middle Tennessee mourned his loss
Back in Middle Tennessee the entire community joined the Winfree family in mourning the loss of the young man we called Wilson.
Fast forward to the 1948-49 time frame, when the U.S. government was gathering the remains of its war dead in the Normandy area from battlefields, private cemeteries, church cemeteries and miscellaneous places for interment in the planned American cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach.
As the remains were disinterred, the next of kin were given the option to either have the loved one sent home for burial in private cemeteries or to have them buried in the U.S. Cemetery in Normandy. I recall my parents discussing Mr. Winfree’s decision to let their son remain in Normandy because he felt that the grieving process would be repeated by his mother. PFC Woodrow Wilson Winfree was moved to the newly established American Cemetery.
Bridge was named in his honor
Fast forward again to 2008, when the County Commission for Smith County, TN, the county in which PFC Winfree was born, passed a resolution naming a bridge in his honor.
It so happened that I mentioned to one of the commissioners, that my wife and I were going to France to enjoy a river cruise that terminated at the American Cemetery. He told me of the resolution and asked if it were possible to bring back an up-to-date photo of PFC Winfree’s grave. This seemed to be a worthy project so I agreed.
Details of grave site needed
Two days from the planned cemetery visit, it occurred to me we would need detailed directions to the grave site, since there are over 5,000 graves and our time there would be relatively short. I presented this problem to the Activities Director on the Riverboat who informed me this was no problem. I gave her the name and she made a phone call with negative results. Two satellite phone calls to our daughter in Atlanta produced the directions we needed. PFC Woodrow Wilson Winfree is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery, Plot J, Row 21, Grave 27.
Not a sound was heard as we approached
The approach of the motor coach to the parking area at the cemetery was a moving experience. Not a sound was heard from the occupants as the driver played a CD of “Amazing Grace” with bagpipes. In the group were veterans of the War in Europe.
With the help of the Activities Director, the grave was located and pictures were made. Several members of the group had learned of our mission and inquired of our success as we boarded the coach to leave.
Upon arriving in Birmingham, we hastened to have the digital images converted to prints and in time mailed to members of PFC Winfree family.
Dedication in Honor and Memory
On August 24, 2008, a Service of Dedication in Honor and Memory of PFC Winfree was held at the bridge named in his honor. The service was attended by state and local dignitaries. The pictures we had furnished were prominently displayed and many comments were made about the up-to-date images. We considered it an honor to have had a small part in remembering the man we called Wilson.
Winfree family sacrificed for their country
A footnote to this story involves the Winfree family. Mr. and Mrs. Winfree had six sons and one daughter. During World War II, five of the sons served at the same time. The sixth son served in the Occupation Army in Europe, where he was allowed to visit his brother’s grave. No one can say the Winfree family did not sacrifice for their country.
Check out historical books and novels by Donna R. Causey