Back in 1944 Jean Kerr was only ten when she received the news that her father, Thomas James had died in battle, in Normandy. Over time the memories of this sad event must have got buried, but amazingly, 66 years later, the canteen that Private Thomas James’ carried into battle has been dug up… According to an article in the Providence Journal, it all started when Ed Robinson, a tour guide in Normandy, found the battered piece of war while walking the beaches in and around Normandy, with a metal detector. The most astonishing part of this story is that the serial number scratched into the bottom of the canteen was still readable – Robinson was then able to trace this service number (J5615) by using battle maps and an Army Web site. He knew the unit, the 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division that had fought in the area, and he worked on the assumption that the owner of the canteen had been killed in action. His research eventually revealed Thomas James — a 34-year-old private from Newport. Then he got in touch with a journalist and a war documentary filmmaker, Tim Gray, who subsequently helped him trace James’ family members. An avid genealogist, Evelyn Murray, read an article on the canteen and got to work checking a 1930 census and various records and obituaries. Her research then led her to his daughter Jean Kerr, who still lived in Newport. “It’s one in a million that Ed could still read the serial number and trace it back,” said Tim Gray, who presented the canteen to Jean Kerr. It’s been emotional
Holding the beaten up canteen was emotional for Jean who never expected to receive a solid connection to the day he died, all those years later. Thomas James apparently carried that canteen when he landed in Normandy and he had it on July 13, 1944, when he was killed in fighting in a place called Purple Heart Draw, reported the Providence Journal. “I almost can’t believe this was something that he touched,” Jean told the publication. An account of the battle was also sent with the canteen in which Robinson states that James died along the north wall of a house from which German machine gunners had been firing. The site is now a field. Jean apparently remembers the small possessions of her father that were sent home from France, which included rosary beads, a prayer book, and a letter she had written him. The canteen is a battle-scarred reminder of what her father went through during World War II. Thomas James is buried in the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in France.
Even years later you can still discover connections with your military ancestors…
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