Perhaps most have not lived in the “Sturm und Drang,” as the Germans would state, or perchance is it just that as time places its distance between us and an event, we pay less attention to it as the years carry us away with woes and cares of our own; personal struggles begin to outweigh the struggles of the collective.
However, when events transpire in our days, especially on our doorstep, the legacy will linger longer, and the magnitude will permeate a bit deeper.
I believe an example came in an email received from David Haubecq of Belgium regarding Upson County son Merritt Ellerbee, who died in a gallant fight in Germany during World War II and was buried in Belgium. I was previously familiar with Merritt Ellerbee’s virtual grave, as I have placed newspaper accounts of his death on his memorial at findagrave.com. However, I was not familiar with the man that stands watch over the actual portion of earth last reserved for the native of this wonderful county.
David Haubecq is the caregiver of Merritt’s grave at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and wanted to find any information on him and his family.
I deal daily with those in search of cemeteries and know very well the importance of the upkeep of a gravesite. In most cases, it seems that if a cemetery is cared for, the overall grounds are maintained without significant regard of an individual grave, unless it is kith or kin. Although Henri-Chapelle is maintained as a whole, it seems there are some caring souls that ensure each soldier’s resting place is loved. Upon receiving Mr. Haubecq’s very thought-provoking request, I was concerned that I may not be able to find a relative of the Upson County hero.
As I was contemplating how to further my research to find a source for this very worthy researcher, I began to look over the articles I placed on Merritt’s site. Most sites will have a photograph of the grave marker; with military graves, I have learned that most are taken by groups interested in military history, rather than by a relative of the departed, especially when the grave is half-a-world away.
However, a shockwave ran through me, as if Tesla himself had flipped the switch, when under the photograph of the marker was the name of the contributor.
And it was Ellerbee.
I clicked on his name, and under his offerings to the website were not multiple contributions, but a single, yet extraordinary, photograph. I knew I had found a relative of Merritt, and this relative cared enough to fly to Belgium and photograph the marker of one of his families’ fallen.
I contacted the family member through an email provided by findagrave.com, and very soon not only received a very excited and courteous reply that he would love to communicate with Mr. Haubecq, but also a copy of a letter Merritt sent to his family from France in 1944.
Subsequently, I received an email from Mr. Haubecq stating how appreciative he was to be connected with a family member of someone he so reveres. In my communications with Mr. Haubecq, it was evident that he does not take for granted his freedom, but rather cherishes it and those who fought to defend it.
When communicating with someone of a different dialect, at times context clues must be utilized, as meanings can be lost in translation. Therefore, it is important to note that Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, German and French. Although I do not know which of the three languages is his native tongue, there was no need for a translator. His words are as clear as if we were from the same streets, and his meaning was as sound as any words my fellow natives articulate to me daily.
Therefore, allow me to offer Mr. Haubecq’s genuine words for America and Merritt Ellerbee, who so long ago forfeited his home to save Mr. Haubecq’s:
“I do not know how to thank you for the help you provided me….I am very touched by the support that you bring, and I am also very excited that this has a repercussion… that I take care of the grave of a young man of your county who came across our land, preserved our freedom. I think these men who have fallen on our land deserve a lot.”
With Mr. Haubecq’s sincere feelings, I pondered on the day of our freedom celebration last and attempted to grasp the moments of Merritt Ellerbee. Try as I might, the true feeling of being scattered across the sky to drop down into earthly perdition eludes me. Likewise, my astute imagination finds not its way to the beach heads far away to stare in the eye of the reaper, hoping he will blink, just as I know not the feeling of being hunkered down as the scream of war surrounds me and the death angel rains down from above.
However, I do know this simple truth — not only do we owe Merritt Ellerbee a debt of gratitude, but let us not take for granted the one who watches over Merritt’s designated spot of earth and cares so deeply about the soldier who fell so that Europe, and perhaps the world, would not.
Walker County native Claude Burgess works at the Thomaston-Upson Archives in Upson County, Ga. Part of his job is to answer historic questions that sometimes lead to amazing stories, like this tale of a connection of countries and an appreciation for heroes in a war 67 years ago and a world away.