A highly decorated Stow pilot who served in World War II, a French teen who cares for his grave and two brothers originally from Ellet are connected in a way that brings special meaning to this Memorial Day.
The Army Air Force pilot is 1st Lt. Robert N. Weyrick.
The teen is 16-year old Clemence Moalli of Brest, Brittany, in France.
The brothers are Jim Weyrick, 60, a travel agent and musician now living in?Schaumburg, Ill., and David, a Stow pastor.
Lt. Weyrick graduated from Stow High School in 1941. After a short stint at B.F. Goodrich, he joined the Army and was assigned to the 87th Squadron, 438th Troop Carrier Group. By the end of the war, he had participated in every African and European invasion and had been awarded eight Bronze Stars.
A Beacon Journal story by Helen Waterhouse told of his “narrowest escape” as he nursed a badly damaged plane back to his base.
But while he survived the war, he did not make it home. A month after victory in Europe, Weyrick, 22, was injured in a train accident. He died on June 9, 1945, in England, and was buried at the Normandy American Cemetery at?Colleville-sur-Mer France.
‘Saving Private Ryan’
A few years ago, the young Clemence Moalli saw the war classic Saving Private Ryan and was moved by the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers to liberate her country.
“I had to do something for these soldiers who came into a country they didn’t know,” she said in an email.
In 2010, she visited the 175-acre cemetery in Colleville, where 9,387 are buried.
“I cried when I saw all the graves,” she said.
She joined Flowers of Memory, a volunteer group of young people who become “godmothers” to the graves of American soldiers.
She cares for the grave of Weyrick, three others at Colleville and another at Saint James.
As she adopted the graves, she also wanted to know about the men who were buried there. Through ancestry.com, she found a link to Stow, so she emailed Pamela J. Silliman Dukarich, a volunteer at the local history section of the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library.
Dukarich searched through archived newsletters from Stow Community Church and found references to Weyrick. She also found the Beacon Journal story by Waterhouse reporting Weyrick’s death.
For Clemence, the material added a few interesting pieces of information, among them the facts that he sang in the church choir and took part in the landing in Sicily and in the Battle of the Bulge.
She also learned of the train accident, which occurred in Amiens, France, on June 5, 1945. Weyrick died four days later.
When Jim Weyrick was a student at the University of Akron and editor of the student newspaper, he often passed the large plates at Memorial Hall that carried the names of area war victims. He saw the name of Robert N. Weyrick, but that’s about as far as his knowledge went.
It wasn’t until a strange sequence of events beginning in 2004 that the travel agent and part-time clarinet player began to make connections.
On a cold February day, he fell on ice as he walked the dog. While in pain on the ground, he determined that this was not going to stop him from traveling with the Chicago-area Mount Prospect Community Band to Sevres, France. Sevres is the sister city of Schaumburg, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
It wasn’t a spiritual moment — the determination to go to Sevres, he said. “It just seemed like the trip would be a goal to sustain me through this accident and recovery.”
But it was odd, he said, that that was such a prominent thought at the time.
Four months later, he was in France. He and two others decided to skip a trip to Versailles and go to the D-Day landing site at Normandy instead.
They walked the beach on a cloudy, misty day, then climbed to the cemetery at Colleville, where a French host led them past the thousands of grave markers.
One of his band members came running and said he had seen a marker for a Weyrick from Ohio.
Weyrick found it, studied the white cross and thought about this being family.
“You are home now,” he said to the grave.
Jim Weyrick’s brother David, pastor of Stow Presbyterian Church, is a history buff, and said family research indicates that the brothers are indeed related to Lt. Weyrick.
David Weyrick said their great-grandfather — Ira Weyrick, of the Uniontown area — was the brother of Lt. Weyrick’s grandfather, Norman Weyrick. Jim and David Weyrick are second cousins once removed from Lt. Weyrick.
There was another connection — one that created momentary family trauma.
Their father, like Lt. Weyrick, also was named Robert, except his middle initial was C. He also served in the Army, but in the Pacific.
When Lt. Weyrick died, the Army notified the wrong mother — their grandmother. Their dad returned safely from the Pacific to eventually become dean of the University of Akron Community and Technical College and assistant provost. He died in 2010 at the age of 85.
David Weyrick said his brother’s chance discovery of the grave says something about connections.
“We have a connection to our roots and to our family that links us in ways that sometimes will surprise us,” he said.
And Jim Weyrick said he believes he broke his ankle on the ice for a reason — some divine plan.
“It was not a coincidence,” he said. “There was no stumbling involved. I had been sent there.”
Memorial Day, he said, “should till up, replant and fertilize one’s faith garden with memory and gratitude for those who have served.”
Clemence Moalli said that, like all volunteers in Flowers of Memory, she wants to learn as much as she can about those whose graves she tends.
“It’s more touching when you have a picture of him because you can put a face on his name and on a man who sacrificed himself for the liberty of the world,” she said. “Now, I care a lot about the soldiers who give their lives in our world, like the soldiers who died in Afghanistan.”
She’ll visit the cemeteries again as June 6 approaches — the 68th anniversary of the invasion — and place some flowers.
She said she has pledged to do all she can to “remember the sacrifice of these young men” and she wants the American people to know that “the French population (at least, much of them) still care, for a long time, of the sacrifice of their soldiers.”
For more about the Flowers of Memory or Memory Flowers project go to: http://?usnormandy.com/memory-flowers.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.