A Special Father Remembered

Sometimes being Beer Santa isn’t about beer at all.  Sometimes it’s about a daughter’s love for her father she never knew.  And sometimes it’s about a sister’s anger toward that same father because he left two little girls and their mother to fight in a war that would take his life.

Flash forward to this past winter when a couple from Northern California signed up for one of my beers tours.  I got an email from Barry asking how one could go about visiting the Ardennes Mountain region after the tour.  He wanted to take his wife to find the grave of her father, who was killed in WWII.

Sandy was only about one when her father departed to fight Hitler and her sister only about a year older.  Neither had ever been to visit their father’s grave.  There were only stories, which have been handed down about how and where he died and where he now is at rest.

I was in tears reading the email.  I offered to take them down there in a rental car in the days after our tour.  I happened to know the location of the cemetery as it’s one I’ve visited in the past.   I don’t know how all this will play out on this emotional journey, but all I know is I have to do this.

Flash forward again to after we complete the Legendary Zythos Beer Festival Tour.  We roll through the gentle rolling green hills of the northern Ardennes and arrive at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.  It’s an overcast day and the coldest day of the week.  I’ve got all my layers on.  There is an administrative office there I have seen in the past.  We check in with the director, Bobby Bell, who turns out has prepared a file about Sandy’s late father, Verdun Roberts.  Sandy had contacted the cemetery to verify some information earlier, not knowing they would prepare a file or be standing by to welcome her should she ever visit one day.  We didn’t have an appointment.  Didn’t know we should have one.  We were just prepared to see the grave.

 The perfectly manicured Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.

The perfectly manicured Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.

Bobby went over what few details where known of her father’s death.  It had occurred shortly after the Battle of the Bulge in February of 1945, while his division was fighting back German forces south of Trier, Germany.  Without requesting her father’s file in Washington. D.C., that’s about all we know.

We walk down the hill from the office through the thousands of white crosses to a row just about in the middle and a little to the north and there it is.  Bobby takes some sand he explains came from Omaha Beach in France, and carefully rubs it into the letter, wipes it with a sponge, then displays them.  Sandy takes some pictures, then understandably breaks down.  We all do, like a tidal wave of emotion.  Her for her father and me for a man I never knew.  We all talk for a while about the significance of the moment, then leave Sandy alone, with her father, to reflect and to speak with him.

 Sandy Marshall at the grave of her father for the first time.

Sandy Marshall at the grave of her father for the first time.

Today is also Sandy’s 71st birthday.  Wow.  Read into that what you will.

I was grateful to have played a role in this reunion and to be part of the visit.  Words cannot begin to explain.  Many lives were lost and forever altered because of WWII.  There are thousands of stories.  This is one.

 Barry and Sandy Marshall.

Barry and Sandy Marshall.

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.
— John F. Kennedy