DRAGUIGNAN, France – A cool breeze flowed through the air, as a reminder was voiced. A reminder that with every white marble headstone lays a fallen hero who sacrificed everything, and each sacrifice has a unique story to go with it. The expense of giving one’s life doesn't stop in their death. They all had people who cared for them – husbands, wives, children, parents, and friends – who had to carry the pain of their loved ones’ sacrifice.
It was under this scene that Marines with India Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visited the Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France, March 26, 2013.
“We went to the memorial to honor all those who gave their lives for the country,” said Cpl. Justin M. Embler, a rifleman with India Co. “In particular there is a single Marine we wanted to pay our respects to, Sgt. Charles Perry. We wanted to visit his site, lower and fold a flag in his honor, and to visit the chapel they built for all the other soldiers, sailors and airmen buried here.”
Perry is the only Marine buried among the rows of the gravesites.
“Sgt. Charles Perry was part of the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services which was a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency,” said Bruce Malone, superintendent of the Rhone American Cemetery. “He, along with seven others were jumping in to assist the resistance exactly two weeks prior to the (Normandy) invasion to help bring supplies and equipment to them. Unfortunately, when he jumped out of his aircraft his static line broke and he plummeted to the ground, never being afforded the opportunity to accomplish his mission."
According to “The Leatherneck Resistance: A Secret World War II OSS Mission” published by World War II magazine, the following morning, Perry was buried with full military honors. The locals spoke he was a “soldier who came from faraway America to help us in the liberation of our country.” One lady even decided to sew an American flag for him to be buried with.
“It really is an honor to be given the opportunity to go to another country and lower the American flag for a fallen Marine,” said Embler. “Hearing the French Legionnaires playing their bugle as I lowered the flag was overwhelming. It kind of hits you close to home because we had our Legionnaire brothers honoring a Marine who died in World War II who perished while defending their homeland.”
As the tour went on, more and more stories were passed by Malone as the Marines passed gravestones. From tragic stories of romance to deaths caused by utter accidents, the fact remains, with the average age of the veterans buried being 22 years old, the Marines of India Co. were honored to be among a group of heroes who will never be forgotten.