WWII commemoration set for Sept. 18 in Deerfield

  • A new historical marker honoring Pfc. James A. “Jimmy” Childs will be unveiled at a World War II commemoration on Sept. 18, the 75th anniversary of the day Childs was killed by sniper fire in eastern Holland. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • Pfc. James A. “Jimmy” Childs CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Alice Childs Harris with her brother, Jimmy, in Deerfield in March 1943. This was their last photo taken together before Pfc. James A. Childs was killed by sniper fire in eastern Holland on Sept. 18, 1944. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Alice Childs Harris’ final visit to her brother Jimmy Childs’ gravesite in Margraten, Holland, in September 2004. In this photo, she is 81. She died in February 2018. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Alice Childs Harris’ first visit to her brother Jimmy Childs’ gravesite in Margraten, Holland, in April 1970. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2019 11:03:35 AM

DEERFIELD — Resident Chris Harris is spearheading a ceremony in honor of the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, an attempt by Allied forces to end World War II by Christmas 1944.

The public ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 18, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Childs Cross Road and 373 Greenfield Road.

For Harris, this anniversary is personal and familial, as his uncle died in eastern Holland on the operation’s second day. A member of the storied 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Pfc. James A. “Jimmy” Childs parachuted into eastern Holland on Sept. 18, 1944, and was killed by sniper fire the following day while helping to clear a drop zone outside Groesbeek to allow glider planes from England to land safely with more troops and supplies.

Childs’ roots and patriotism will be detailed in a historical marker that will be unveiled at next month’s ceremony. Harris said the marker will be the first of a handful to honor fallen soldiers that called Deerfield home.

The ceremony is a way to “bring attention and show gratitude to the World War II generation,” Harris said. “I’m grateful my family sacrificed alongside millions of other Americans.”

According to a preliminary schedule of events, the ceremony will include a posting of the colors, recital of the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, and an opening prayer. Harris, board member of the Family and Friends of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment Association, expects to speak about the human toll of World War II, American sacrifice during the war, and the link from Operation Market Garden to other pivotal battles in Europe and in the Pacific.

Sgt. Maj. Kenneth “Rock” Merritt, a Silver Star recipient who has earned the Doughboy Award for a lifelong contribution to the U.S. Army’s infantry and was an original inductee into the 82nd Airborne Division Hall of Fame, will also be present to offer reflections. Merritt, who lives in North Carolina, and Childs were members of the 508th at the same time, though they never met.

There will also be hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks, beer, wine and a social hour.

Harris, 54, never met his Uncle Jimmy but grew up seeing his medals on the wall and looking at photographs of him. He explained Childs was killed at 31 — an old man by paratrooper standards, as most of the men in the regiment were 18 to 20. The month before he was killed, Childs received a citation for a Bronze Star for heroic conduct in action.

Childs last wrote to his mother on July 29, 1944, explaining he had been behind enemy lines for 13 days and was held prisoner by the Germans for three days before escaping.

“I will sure be glad when this war is over. I hope all the folks and you are well and don’t worry about me. I’ll get back there someday, I’m sure,” he wrote. “Lots of Love, Jim.”

“He obviously was a tough guy and must have been in great shape. They are really the most daring, risk-taking types of soldiers,” Harris said of paratroopers.

Harris boasts the distinction of having two paratroopers as uncles — Lewis Childs was in the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment and jumped in Italy and southern France before participating in the Battle of the Bulge.

Harris’ mother, Alice Childs Harris, and the rest of the family did not learn of Jimmy’s death until October, on the day of her wedding shower. Alice married five weeks later and wore black to mourn her brother. She made her first trip to Jimmy’s gravesite while chaperoning a Frontier Regional School band trip to Europe in 1970. She visited for the final time in September 2004, when she was 81.

Alice died in February 2018, and with her death, Harris said, the Childs surname disappeared from Deerfield. Childs Cross Road is within 100 yards of the 1814 Georgian colonial house in which Jimmy Childs grew up with his siblings.

Harris, whose father was also a World War II veteran, said he lived in Europe for four years and many people on the continent remain extremely appreciative for the sacrifice young Americans made to help free them from tyranny.

“Millions and millions of these kids volunteered to go into the military and ended up getting deployed around the world, and they were just dedicated fighters,” he said. “They did what they had to do.”


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