Revamped memorial honors fallen WWII soldierSeptember 12, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
Seventy-five years after his heroic death, the father of a Jasper woman was recently honored in Rully, France, for his actions during World War II.
A memorial for the decorated Lt. Col. Kent Fay was restored and inaugurated by the French National Association Research Team 1939-1945 late last month.
“France will not forget the sacrifice of American men and women killed during the last world conflict,” Christophe Clement, chairman of that organization’s board of directors, wrote in a translated email.
Fay was killed during the liberation of Rully, which is located in the northern French department of Oise. Over the past 20 years, his descendents have developed a deep connection to the town where he took his final breaths.
Clement said in a translated message that he drives by the memorial every day for work. He saw it falling into pieces and felt compelled to give it new life.
STORY: They saved his body
The French National Association Research Team 1939-1945 aims to preserve the memory of that time period through historical research, organization of official commemorations and historical reconstructions of exhibitions.
“Lt. Colonel Kent Fay [was] the highest ranking American soldier killed in the department of Oise,” Clement said in the translated message. “It was important to remember.”
The restoration work lasted from March to August. The memorial honors Fay, as well as the Frenchmen who pulled his body from the wreckage of battle and wheeled it through the streets of the town to a nearby church. Fay died while riding in an armored car on Aug. 30, 1944.
His daughter, Judy Wilson, first saw the memorial during a trip to Rully in 1999. She has lived in Dubois County for 15 years, and she initially made contact with an American priest living in France about two decades ago after her brother-in-law discovered a New York Times story from 1944 documenting Fay’s death and the community response.
“With full knowledge of the danger involved, the squadron commander [Fay] placed his armored car in front of the [reconnaissance] column and led it in a rapid advance into an area where the enemy was believed to have artillery emplacements,” that NYT story reads. “Near Rully, France, a concealed German artillery piece opened up on the leading vehicle, killing the commander.”
A citation quote in that story heralded him as “an inspiration to his unit and in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.” He posthumously received a Silver Star award for his leadership.
Wilson contacted the priest to see if any additional information about her father could be found. The two believed tapping a local newspaper could yield results, and on the same day an article about Fay was published, they received a response.
It led to Wilson to a man named Andre, one of the sons of Etienne Dhuicque, the farmer who retrieved her father from the tank-like vehicle as machine gun fire rained down.
Since then, Wilson has visited the town several times and feels a deep connection to the area.
“I just think it’s the feeling that they have for us, and for what my father did for them,” said Wilson, 79, of Jasper. “And every other American soldier that went over there. They are so grateful.”
Though she couldn’t make it, nine of her family members were present at a ceremony for the restored memorial. It is now significantly improved.
In addition to restoring the stones, a strong, permanent foundation was poured at the site. Marble chips were also placed around the memorial, enhancing its beauty.
Kent Lyons — who is Wilson’s nephew — closed a speech at the ceremony with a quote from his mother, Joanne Lyons, who was Fay’s youngest daughter.
“Rully was beyond words, just makes your heart full,” he recalled his mother saying.
He continued: “I’m sure today my grandfather Lt. Col. Kent Fay has a full heart as he and all those that have gone before us watch the events of today unfold.”
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