The North of France will forever be scarred by memories of past conflicts and loss, but a family thousands of miles away will never forget receiving an ammunition pouch carried by a young American soldier after it was discovered in a farmhouse near the town of Valenciennes.
Alex Gilmour sacrificed his life for freedom during World War II in the North of France. It was his pouch, found 69 years after his death, which began its journey to his family with a letter from Eric and Patricia Flamme-Leroy, who live near Valenciennes.
In a letter, Patricia explained she was a member of two organizations who promote the historical past of Normandy. The “Carentan-Liberty Group” has a goal of introducing as many people as possible to the battle and liberalization of Normandy in 1944. She is also a member of “Les Fleurs de la Memoire” (The Flowers of Memory), an organization formed to perpetuate the memory of the soldiers, sailors and airmen buried in the American Cemeteries of Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint James in Normandy. A fellow member of the group told her he had found a U.S. Army Thompson ammuniton pouch, 20 shots, marked Gilmour, Alex, 35772075 in an old farmhouse.
Patricia searched the internet and the American Archives and found Alex was a member of the 79th Infantry Division, 313 Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, A Company and that he had a brother named Fred, which had ultimately led her to write a letter to him.
The family was wary of the contact, fearing it was a scam. Fred passed the information along to his brother Tom, and asked him to follow up on the story. The family considers Tom as the family historian.
Tom responded to the letter and gave Patricia more accurate and more information describing Alex’s family and service.
Alex Gilmour was born on July 13, 1922, at Logan. His father and namesake passed away in 1942, leaving a wife and nine children. Alex would have not had to serve in the military since he helped provide for the family, but he told his mother he thought he should and joined the Army.
Alex served in the 79th Infantry Division and went ashore on Utah Beach June 14, 1944. His assignment was operating the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and he was known as the BARMAN. The BAR expended many rounds of ammunition and the BARMAN carried two belts of ammunition across his shoulders and carried clips of ammunition in his ammunition belt in addition to the ammunition carried in his pouch found in the farmhouse.
Alex was seriously wounded on June 21, 1944, as the 79th Division moved from Utah Beach to attack and capture the Port of Cherbourg. He was evacuated to England for treatment, then re-joined his division on August 14 as they were closing in on the Seine River. His division was the first to cross the Seine on August 18, but sadly it was after Alex had been wounded for the second time on August 17, evacuated to the 4th Field Hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds on August 18.
The American Cemeteries of Colleville-sur-Mer was the first resting place for Alex, but in 1948, the U.S. government notified his mother she could leave him there, have him interred in a military cemetery anywhere in the U.S. or in a family cemetery. She chose to bring him home.
Alex was brought to his home escorted by a soldier from Williamson. The American Legion Post gave Alex a military funeral and he now rests in the family cemetery at Charleston.
The pouch 22-year-old Alex carried before his death in 1944 was returned to his family after he left it in a farmhouse in the north of France 69 years ago amid the fierce battles which claimed his life.
Alex’s sister Jennie Porter brought the story of the pouch’s discovery to light, and she shared memories of Alex going away, his death and how the family’s grief was renewed when Alex was brought home in 1948.
“I can remember being in the sixth grade when “Eck” as everyone called him, left. I can remember how grief-stricken everyone was when we got the news of his death. We had a memorial service and grieved for him in 1944. When I was in the tenth grade, Alex was brought to our home for visitation, which was a custom at the time, and then he was buried in our family cemetery at Charleston. It was like going through his death again for our family.”
When the pouch was returned, Tom took photos and sent them to his family. Recently, Tom sent the pouch to his brother Fred, who will be traveling to Logan next month, bringing the pouch along to show Jennie and sister Betty Under, who also lives in Logan.
Jennie is excited to see the pouch and said, “Getting to touch something that once belonged to him will be like getting a touch of him again.”
Alex’s mother and two of his siblings have passed away, two sisters and two brothers live in Florida and two sisters live in Logan.
When asked who was going to be the pouch’s guardian, Jennie said her brother Tom will keep the pouch until the story of its recovery, and the story of the brave young man who carried it, are passed along to the next generation.
The Carentan Liberty Group is preparing for re-enactments starting in June of 2014 during the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasions and they hope to have a large number of tourists from all Allied Nations who participated in the liberation of France.