Nearly 20 years of intense interest and actually digging up history, has led 29-year-old Jean-Loup Gassend to plan a future book on the subject of World War II soldiers that were killed during the liberation of southern France during the summer of 1944.
Among some of the soldiers killed that summer 67 years ago was Willard Eugene Meek, a 24-year-old soldier from Newcomerstown who was with the 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Division.
Since the age of 10, Gassend, a resident of Nice, France, has been listening to the stories of family members and elders on the accounts of the military battles that have taken place around southern France during World War II. Gassend said about six years ago, he began keeping notes after he realized that there were no personal accounts of these battles or the men who fought in them in any of the military history books. Gassend said during that same time he was also involved in the excavation of a mass grave that had been discovered near Nice. The excavation was being conducted by the German War Graves Commission as it was believed the grave contained the remains of at least 14 German soldiers that were killed during a battle in late August 1944.
In an attempt to identify the soldiers and possibly locate relatives, Gassend obtained a casualty list of the men that were involved in some of the battles that took place that year. Among the names Gassend found was Meeks name along with his last known address. Gassend then obtained the Newcomerstown Historical Societys address and requested their help in locating further information on Meek.
Historical society members then began their search through the museums vast files and ultimately finding only one photograph which was not adequate to create a photo from due to being permanently sealed in a laminate material. Members then regretfully planned to contact Gassend to inform him that no photo or information could be provided. It was later found that one of the historical society members husband was a direct descendant of Meek. Contact was later established with Meeks only surviving sister, Carolyn (Meek) Hughes of Gratiot, Ohio, to gather pictures and family information for Gassends planned book. He said his intention for the book is to show the personal account of each soldier that was killed or still missing as a way of honoring them. There is no information at this time about when the book will be printed or if it will be available to the public.
Gassend, a recent medical school graduate, plans to specialize in forensic pathology.
Meek, born Nov. 15, 1920, was one of 12 children born to Arthur and Lesta (Wise) Meek. The family formerly resided on Chestnut Street in Newcomerstown. Meek was not married, but was engaged to Edith Shinaberry at the time of his death.
According to his sister, Meeks parents sent for his body following the military notice that he had been killed on Aug. 16, 1944. He was buried at West Lawn Cemetery, Newcomerstown, with a full military grave service in September 1944.