More than 70 years after the death of her brother during World War II, an 84-year-old Pennsylvania woman is still struggling to understand her father’s decision to bury him in France.
My family has known Irene Vigosky since before I was born. We always called her Skee.
Her second-oldest brother, Eugene, was killed in the summer of 1944, near Saint Lo during the Battle of Normandy.
“My mother, one or two nights before the telegram came, dreamt exactly the way it came to be,” Vigosky says.
Vigosky’s parents were first-generation Americans from Hungary. The kind of folks who kept their feelings to themselves and didn’t really discuss their grief with the family.
The pain of her brother’s death remains raw — so raw she’s never visited his gravesite in Normandy.
In fact, no one from her family has made the journey overseas.
But one thing she can’t quite wrap her brain around is why her father allowed Eugene’s body to stay in France.
“Cause I thought for sure, you know, it’s my brother, they’re going to bring him home,” Vigosky says. “We’ll put him here where we can go put flowers.”
So her dad’s decision, like thousands of other families at the time, meant his boy would eventually be interred and looked after by strangers.
The 172-acre Normandy American Cemetery is overseen by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Staff members like Anthony Lewis, an interpretive guide, escort next-of-kin to the gravesite of their loved one for a special ceremony. I’m serving as a stand-in of sorts for the Vigoskys.
The cemetery is divided into 10 plots with graves facing westward toward the homeland of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“So, here we are,” Lewis says. “Eugene Vigosky, staff sergeant with the 119th infantry, part of the 30th Division.”
Lewis is holding a small bucket of moistened sand with a wet sponge and two flags. He takes the sand from Omaha Beach and rubs it into Eugene’s engraved name.
The process brings his name out from the white marble Latin cross to the point it can be read from 15 to 20 feet away.
“The American flag we put in the soldier’s right hand, and the French flag we put in his left,” Lewis says. “There we are.
“Well, it’s just that, obviously, the Americans landed on Omaha Beach, and it’s just tradition that we put the flag nearest the beach. The French flag is always put to inland territory.”
The ceremony is simple and as it ends, Lewis encourages a quick photo or two.
The pictures of Eugene’s final resting place capture the quiet beauty of the Normandy cemetery and bring Vigosky back to her father’s decision.
Maybe, she reflects, it came out of a deep love for his new country.
“It’s almost like, OK, I’ll let you have my son, you know, where he died,” she says. “And that’s why it’s good to see how they take care of him.”
Staff Sgt. Vigosky is not forgotten, not by his last living sibling and not by complete strangers lovingly tending to the marble Latin cross bearing his name and facing home.