Standing at the very spot where her brother was shot dead by Nazi soldiers in a French village, Faye Campbell couldn’t help but be taken back to the scene inside an Oklahoma grocery store nearly seven decades ago.
She was 16, tagging along with her mother on a typical trip to the grocery in tiny Carney, Okla. But in walked a man with an envelope in his hand that would change their lives forever.
“I remember that day so plain,” she said with a slight yet sweet southern drawl. “When I saw that postmaster come in carrying that letter, I can remember my words to my mother ‘That letter is telling us that my brother has been killed.’
“And sure enough, it was.”
Alfred L. Green died Aug. 8, 1944.
He was 20 years old. His little sister, now 85 years old and living in Grass Valley, is still heartsick.
“We were very close,” she said. “We lived on the farm, so we had a lot of work the farm, but we also had our fun. I remember the first day I went to school — I was six years old, and he was 10 — he took me by the hand and walked with me all the way to school. He was so proud. He introduced me as his little sister to everyone.”
But now it’s the little sister who beams with pride, talking about her big brother, who went off to war. It was while Alfred was fighting for the U.S. Army in Chaufour Notre-Dame, a small village in northwestern France more than 100 miles west of Paris, that he and two other Americans were caught in the crossfire of German SS soldiers.
“The battle was very fierce,” Jim Green, the nephew of Alfred Green who accompanied Campbell on a September trip to the village, told the Edmond (Okla.) Sun. “My uncle and the two other soldiers got caught in the crossfire between two German machine guns, and they just got cut to pieces. They died instantly.”
Once the Germans left the scene of the shooting, however, it was a brave act by a villager that allowed the body of Campbell’s big brother to buried back home in Oklahoma. It was one of several examples Campbell saw of the village’s appreciation for her brother’s service during a memorial service held in honor of the three slain soldiers 68 years later.
“One of the men told me that his dad found my brother,” said Campbell. “His dad snuck in and got the bodies, carried the bodies and hid them in a barn so the Germans couldn’t find them once it was clear.”
During the trip to France, which was Campbell’s first flight overseas and also included visits to several historic World War II sites, the gratitude the town displayed for the fallen Americans — and the World War II efforts of the United States, in general — was evident.
A quilt, bearing both the French and American flags and the date of Alfred’s death,
was presented to her as a memento. But it was the overall gesture of honoring her brother and his fellow soldiers that she says is most memorable and appreciated.
“They had a memorial service for the family and then a big celebration with a parade and everything on the next day,” Campbell said. “I was talking to the mayor and a man named Jack Emery, who organized the whole thing, and I was telling them how glad I was to be there.
“I can’t explain the feeling I had when I got the first email and found out they were doing this, that somebody knew of my brother. My mother always worried that he had died alone. Knowing what happened, that he wasn’t alone, I told them I couldn’t say what it meant for what they did for my brother and what it meant to my family to have him brought back (to Oklahoma).
“But they said the same thing. You could just feel the love of their people. They couldn’t say enough about America and the Americans. They couldn’t say enough about those American boys.”
As the only living sibling of any of the three soldiers honored, Campbell said she felt an obligation of sorts — both to the host villagers and her brother — to attend once invited. Having moved away from the family farm at 18, heading west in 1952 to California, where she raised her family with her late husband, Jack Campbell — also a World War II veteran — she often thought about Alfred. The opportunity to bring a sense of closure to such a tragic moment for her family couldn’t be missed, she said.
“I’ve done things now I swore I’d never do,” she said with a smile. “Flying over water for seven hours? Crossing the English channel by ferry? I never would have done those things.”
She said she also couldn’t imagine ever being able to survey the scene where her big brother made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and those aligned with the war effort, let alone stand at the very spot — now marked by a flagpole near an elementary school.
“They had my brother’s picture sitting there,” she said. “It was hard. I stood right where his body fell and laid for two days. It was hard, very hard.
“But, and I don’t remember the mayor’s name, but he said they’d been looking for the Green family for several years. They always felt they owed the Americans because if it wasn’t for those American boys, France wouldn’t be here today.”
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“They couldn’t say enough about those American boys.”
— Faye Campbell