The Thomaston-Upson Archives and Archivist Claude Burgess have been selected by the Georgia Historical Society to receive the Roger K. Warlick Local History Achievement Award in the category of Archival Excellence for ‘Finding the Greatest Generation Across the Oceans.’ The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of public history and was announced Thursday at the 174th Annual Meeting of the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah.
‘Finding the Greatest Generation Across the Oceans’ started with a research request that came in by email from David Haubecq of Belgium. He was requesting information on Merritt Ellerbee, a soldier from Upson County who was killed in action in Germany on February 2, 1945. Haubecq is the caregiver of Ellerbee’s grave at Henri Chappell American Cemetery and wanted to find information on him and his family. From that request, Claude Burgess began a project of finding Upson County soldiers who lost their lives abroad during World War II, and then corresponding with the caretakers in foreign countries who are looking after the graves of those Americans who died away from home, in the service of their country.
The research also opened a doorway for international good will, said Burgess.
“I began to receive emails from cemeteries abroad that were ecstatically seeking information on the soldiers buried in their cemeteries. Thirty-eight emails later, information was sent to 11 cemeteries abroad in eight countries on three continents. I communicated with the keepers of our heroes in Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Tunisia, Germany, and the Philippines. Furthermore, with the above contacts I was able to provide information for a World War I soldier from Upson County to another cemetery in France.”
A total of 89 men from Upson were killed during World War II, according to the WWII marker at the courthouse. Thirty-four of those men were buried abroad. Two were repatriated after the war, but 32 remain buried overseas, including three who have memorials in Hawaii because their bodies were never recovered and they are considered buried at sea. The cemeteries are part of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), except one in Germany which is part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
Burgess said he enjoyed doing this project so much that he doesn’t feel like he’s worthy of the award.
“Collecting the information had already been done. The only thing unique was making sure all of the cemeteries had this information and contacting all of the grave keepers,” said Burgess. “One of the most gratifying things is realizing how honored these men are by the countries they are buried in. That’s something I’ve not seen here. We seem to take it for granted that these men fought and died to defend our freedom.”
This is the third time the Thomaston-Upson Archives has received the Roger K. Warlick Local History Achievement Award. The Archives won it in 2007 for a joint project with the Upson Historical Society on a Living History Project and Veterans Appreciation day, and in 2009 for another joint project with the Upson Historical Society for a Media Project.