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A Case Study       

Last night on Facebook I found a post about Pvt Ralph B. Devaney who was killed in Normandy. A museum in Gettysburg had shown a Helmet associated with Pvt Devany. Normally I go right by something like that because that isn’t what I find interesting.

For some reason this one did catch my eye though. I started reading the post and added my own two cents as it were;

“This is an interesting Case Study. The picture of Pvt Devaney is flipped around. The enlisted wear the patch on the left side of the cap. The paperwork attached shows the date of death at 29 June 1944 but that is wrong as St. Mere Eglise Cemetery closed before that date.

On the Weekly Burial Reports it shows him buried on 20 June 1944 which makes more sense. Pvt Devaney's Medial Report shows that he was Killed in Action not Died of Wounds. The key to sorting this out would be to look at his IDPF. The odds are also that the Helmet was not his. They would enter D-8478 for ID not his name and full ASN.”

I am the first to admit a mistake and I was wrong stating it couldn’t have been his. I spoke with another researcher about this helmet and he actually had taken the photos for this post. He said the other side was rusted and in very bad shape. He was then nice enough to forward ahead Pvt Devaney’s IDPF to match up with the three items I’d posted, Weekly Burial Report, SGO and a Morning Report.

When looked at the IDPF and Graves Registration Form #1 I saw something I had never seen in an IDPF. On the top right hand corner it leaves a spot for the Army Serial Number. This time it had this D-8478 not his ASN. I then looked for his Dog Tag information and if he had any personal effects. Pvt Devaney had neither when found. Pvt Devaney was buried on 20 June 1944 and listed as Killed in Action that day as well.

That is very unusually to be buried the same day you die. Even men who died at the Hospital at that time period took days because of the backlog. Not having either Dog Tags or Personal effects means the Germans had gone through his pockets at some point. I then looked at Disinterment Directive Form.

This was another very unusual description for Nature of Burial. Pvt Devaney was still wearing his Parachute Harness when disinterred in December of 1947. The first thing a Parachutist does is to shuck his Harness. I then looked at the next line over on the Disinterment Directive and say this under Condition of Remains; Fractured Skull.

Looking at the SGO form was a revelation as well. Pvt Devaney was listed as Killed in Action, not Died of Wounds. He was also listed as not in a medical installation prior to death. He is listed as being at an Aid Station but after death. There were exceptions to the rules for having someone buried quickly. Two of them are an obvious death such as severe head wounds and a body that was found weeks after death. It was very hot in Normandy in the middle to late of June. Most likely between the Fractured Skull and that he had been above ground for 2 weeks played into his quick burial.

That was the last piece of the puzzle for what had happened to Pvt Devaney. He died on impact on June 6, 1944 not June 20, 1944. Tying the three things together, the damaged helmet, that he was still wearing his harness when found and that he died of a Fractured Skull makes it 99% that he either had a streamer or jumped to low for the parachute to deploy.

Now I am on my quest to find a family member in Saginaw, Michigan to let then know that he died on June 6, 1944. In a way he was one of the luck ones, he never knew what hit him. When he jumped out of that door it was the last thing he ever thought about. There are worse ways to go than jumping into history.

I’m not denigrating the research done for Pvt Devaney. This is how we learn by making mistakes. We shouldn’t post something unless sure or at least have a good idea of what happened and back it up with documentation but say not 100% sure..

Brian Siddall
November 30, 2015


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