Gerry Correll remembers vividly standing with her sister, Shirley Awalt, at their brother's grave at Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France.
It had been nearly 70 years since Pfc. James W. Hazen Jr. left their family's home in Ponca City to serve in the U.S. Army. He was killed in action a couple of years later, on Aug. 15, 1944, during the Allied invasion of southern France, in the region where he now is buried.
“It was just so peaceful,” she said of the cemetery and the surrounding city. “After all those years, it was just like we could feel that he was glad we finally came.”
Gerry, who still lives in Ponca City, and Shirley, who now lives in Elk Grove, Calif., are the only family members to have visited Jim's grave. They were able to make the trip through the generosity of the Franco-American Society of Draguignan (Le Souvenir Franco-Americain), with the help of the mayor of Draguignan, France.
Jim Hazen is among the 860 American military personnel buried at Rhone. He died on the first day of Operation Dragoon, sometimes referred to as the Second D-Day.
The cemetery is one of 24 overseas military cemeteries and 25 memorials, monuments and markers maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Nearly all the cemeteries and memorials specifically honor those who served in World War I or World War II.
Another Hazen brother, Seaman 1st Class William E. Hazen, was lost at sea and is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the American cemetery in Manila, Philippines.
“Those people (in the Franco-American Society) were so good to us,” Gerry said. “They treated us like royalty. They made sure we knew how important we were, that Jim was, to them.
“And the monuments commission people were so great, too. It's just wonderful what they did and what they do for the families.”
After all those years, it was just like we could feel that he was glad we finally came.”