A journey that began 70 years ago when an Army private from Boston fought across France and Germany in World War II came full circle when a veteran from Henderson returned from a trip to deliver sand from Normandy’s Utah Beach to the soldier’s widow.
The jar of sand that Navy vet Ron Deanne gave Fern Jennings is from where Pvt. Ed Jennings landed with the 5th Infantry Division on July 9, 1944. It goes with a jar of Danube River water that the young soldier brought home in 1945 as a keepsake of the war’s end in Germany’s Black Forest.
“This is very generous of you. I never thought anything like this would happen,” she told Deanne after he handed her the sand June 27 at American Legion Post 8 in Las Vegas, where she had just finished rehearsal with the Happy Hoofers, a senior women’s tap dance troupe.
“Now I have an accompaniment for my bottle of water,” she said about the jar of Danube water. “I didn’t know he had it until after he died. I found it up on the shelf. His mother had saved it when he brought it back and kept it in her house.”
Pvt. Jennings survived the war but died of leukemia in 1984, shortly after he and Fern had moved to Las Vegas from the East Coast. He was too ill to live his dream to return to France for the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.
Ten years later, on the 50th anniversary of the invasion, she compiled a book titled, “Your Loving Son, ‘Ed,’ ” about his World War II letters that she had found in a shoe box next to the jar of water.
Deanne, whose Navy career spanned four wars — Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq — as an enlisted sailor and civilian contractor, had planned a retirement trip to France and Germany with his wife, Anita, who is from Germany. He had a “bucket list” of places they wanted to visit in June on the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. But after reading a Christmas Day story in the Review-Journal about the book on Jennings, he decided to add another item to his bucket list.
“I started thinking about completing this circle for not only Fern but for myself,” Deanne said. “I knew she had water from the blue Danube. And I just said, ‘Well, hey. Why not take some Utah Beach sand back?’ It was my way of saying ‘thank you’ to Fern for writing the book. It gave me more of a purpose.’ ”
Deanne said he “got to see Normandy, St. Mere Eglise, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and the cemetery, of course. The sand was the easy part.”
Fern Jennings said his gesture to retrace her husband’s steps during the war and dedicate his trip to Pvt. Ed Jennings’ memory “was really touching.”
“Thank you for doing what you did,” she said, clutching the jars of sand and water. “This is the beginning and the end. And I never thought I’d have something from the beginning of the war.”
Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.