Photo captures D-Day sacrifice

By CHARLIE SMITH,

Today, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, holds special significance to Sherry Dennis of Pine Burr.

One of her brothers, Elbert M. Beasley Jr., died at Normandy on June 6, 1944, as part of the invasion to free Europe from Nazi Germany. The private first class is buried there beneath one of the thousands of white crosses marking the final resting places of American soldiers. He was just 21.

Dennis, 75, recently received a framed photograph of her brother’s grave from a Texas retiree. It was the culmination of a seven-year search that B.C. Robison made to find a living relative after coming upon the headstone by chance.

The 73-year-old former veterinarian and environmental consultant from Katy, Texas, said he had read books about World War II since his youth and visited with his wife in 2012 the French beaches where some of the most intense fighting of the war, famously depicted in the film “Saving Private Ryan,” took place. While walking through the Normandy American Cemetery, Robison noticed he had not seen any gravestones marked June 6, 1944 (U.S. soldiers who died during the entire campaign are buried there).

So he kept looking until he spotted the first June 6 headstone: It bore the name of Elbert M. Beasley Jr. of Mississippi. Robison’s maternal great-grandfather was from Mississippi, fighting in the Civil War. Although he’s rarely been to the state aside from a few business trips to Jackson, that family connection caught his interest.

“It was probably some kid from the country who just got swept up in the war and died on the shore. … It just sort of resonated with me, plus it was the first D-Day grave that I saw and that had an impact on me,” Robison said in a phone interview Monday. “I just imagine this guy with family members back home, which turned out to be true.”

The Beasley family certainly had not forgotten their brother’s sacrifice. Two of his siblings have traveled to France and viewed his grave.

Dennis, although born just two months before D-Day, vividly recalls what her father would do in the years after the war when thinking about his firstborn son.

“He would open up a trunk, and he’d get out the flag and rub that flag,” Dennis said, tears coming to her eyes at the memory.

Also, she said her brother signed for both his father and Dennis’s mother, who was Elbert Jr.’s step-mother, to receive a war allotment in the event of his death. Dennis said that showed the love he had for his step-mother and that the checks helped the family get through difficult times.

Dennis’s father had nine children with his first wife before her death, and then he had 14 more with his second wife, who was Dennis’s mother, for a total of 23 offspring.

Dennis said her oldest brother was born in Copiah County, where their father’s family was from. Much of the family later moved to Marion County, where many still live today. The Copiah County roots were the first connection that Robison found after visiting the cemetery, taking a picture of the grave and trying to find out more information.

He ran an ad for two weeks in the Copiah County Courier asking for anyone related to Beasley to contact him. He didn’t get a response, but later mentioned it to a friend from San Antonio who is an amateur military historian. That led to him finding out that Beasley died on Utah Beach, which is where his unit, the 22nd Infantry, 4th Division, landed.

The project stalled from there, but Robison got an idea about a year ago to resurrect it. He searched for the largest newspaper in Mississippi and came up with the Clarion Ledger in Jackson. He planned to run another ad but said the editor, Sam Hall, offered to do a story, which was written by Outdoors Editor Brian Broom and published in March.

At that point Beasleys started coming out of the woodwork, Robison said, but they were just cousins. He was looking for a direct relative.

Dennis also saw the story and contacted Broom, who put Robison in touch with her. After talking on the phone several times, Robison mailed over the framed photograph, which was actually taken on the 70th anniversary of D-Day by a friend on June 6, 2014. It shows the white, marble cross, a bouquet of flowers and the U.S. and French flags.

Robison credits the Clarion Ledger staff for helping facilitate the connection and said he now feels like an honorary member of the Beasley family. Along with the framed picture, he also sent Dennis a note.

“I hope you and your family enjoy this photograph. Elbert was a true American hero,” Robison wrote.

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