By Lt. j.g. Sean Menezes, USS The Sullivans Public Affairs
DRAGUIGNAN, France (NNS) -- Eight members of the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) visited the Rhone American Cemetery Dec. 8 to honor the 860 American servicemen and women buried there.
The majority of these men and women lost their lives in the liberation of southern France in August 1944.
Cemetery associate Alison Libersa escorted The Sullivans visitors through four neatly arranged plots, each with rows and columns of perfectly spaced headstones. One particular headstone read, "WILLIAM A. STEINHURST/CAPT 136 MCU/MASS NOV 1, 1944." Libersa explained the tombstones read the name and rank of the deceased, the unit they were serving with, which state they hailed from, and the date they died.
"Birthdays are not written on these graves because that would bring more attention to one than to the others. Here, they are all equals, regardless of rank, religion, branch of service, or hometown," Libersa said. "Here, they are all respected equally for their sacrifice."
The visitors walked to a series of graves and rubbed sand from the beaches of southern France, where these soldiers had landed, into the indented writing on the headstones. This caused the writing on each headstone to stand out, and, as Libersa put it, "This person now lives." The Sullivans visitors then planted small American and French flags beside each grave.
Chief Navy Career Counselor Melissa Cyr read aloud a telegraph sent from the U.S. government to a deceased service member's parents as Chief Operations Specialist Jorge Martinez arranged a large laminated photo of the deceased beside the grave.
Among those laid to rest in the cemetery are 14 Americans who hail from the state of Iowa, the home state of the five Sullivan brothers; the ship's namesake. Although the brothers are not buried at Rhone, there are hundreds of U.S. Navy Sailors who served valiantly during the war interred in the 12-acre plot of land.
The Sullivans visitors honored the Iowans by applying sand to each of the 14 headstones. The activities conducted were especially moving to the participants and served as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices of those Americans who did not return home after World War II. A folded American flag, which had been flown above Rhone American Cemetery, was presented to Cmdr. Samuel de Castro, The Sullivans commanding officer.
"We were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Rhone, honor all of those who rest there and spend some time with those who hailed from Iowa, like the Sullivan brothers," said de Castro.
Commissioned in 1997, USS The Sullivans is the second U.S. ship named in honor of George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivan, five brothers who served and perished together when their ship, USS Juneau (CL52), was sunk by a Japanese submarine in November 1942 during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The ship's motto honors the brotherhood of the men for whom she is named - "We stick together!"
For more information on USS The Sullivans, visit http://www.the-sullivans.navy.mil/.
For more news from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/surflant/.