Media Archive

A brother's sacrifice, a sister's love, and a sons quest

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 30, July 23, 2003

By Ben Bragdon
Staff Writer

In the early 1940s, as Hitler's army was meeting the forces of liberty in the fields and forests of Europe Robert and Roland Marquis two brothers from Millinocket, Maine journeyed across the ocean to join the fight, taking up arms next to milions of young Americans just like them.

Back at home, in towns large and small scattered across the country families of these young men men who just months before had been students and carpenters, farmers and factory workers waited for word about their fathers, sons, brothers,and best friends. Information, caught in the fury and confusion of war, was slow to come across the Atlantic, and the news that did make it home was unsatisfying, and often terrible. Corinne Marquis received such a report late in the spring of 1945. Robert, wounded but intact, would eventually return home. But Roland, 28-years-old, would remain forever in Europe, buried in a cemetery in Belgium alongside thousands of other young men, heroes who sacrificied their futures so that others could live free of tyranny.

"My mother told me many, many times," says Corinne's son, Ron Petrie, "that the only thing she ever knew about her brother Roland was that he went to war, got killed, and was buried in Belgium. And that is all she ever knew."

Curiousity about his uncle's service built up over the years, and last winter Petrie, himself a 20-year Navy veteran with two tours in Vietnam, began a search to answer the questions so long a part of his family, and to soften in some way his mother's long-held heartache over the brother who was lost almost 60 years ago.

Petrie, who now lives in Middletown, Rhode Island, but often comes to Dover-Foxcroft to visit his mother, a resident of Thayer Parkway senior housing, began his search with the help of U.S. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

The first step was to contact the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, where Roland's records had been kept until destroyed in a fire in 1973. Luckily, the Veteran's Affairs Office had copies of some of the records, which led them to a Department of Defense office in Philadelphia. There, a more complete picture of his uncle's service began to form. It seems Roland's actions in Europe had won him a series of medals that were never awarded to him or his family. He had died a battlefield hero, which was sure to be comforting news to his now-elderly sister.

The list of nine medals includes the Silver Star, a top honor awarded for "gallantry in action against an enemy...(which) must have been performed with marked distinction". Also awarded to Marquis were the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among others.

"He must have done something above and beyond the call of duty," Petrie says.

During his search, Petrie also found through a Web site the cemetery in Belgium where his uncle is buried, along with over 8,000 other Americans who never made it home to their families. He says that his grandparents were given the choice to bring Roland's remains back after the war, or to bury him near the battlefield where he lost his life.

"My grandmother and grandfather decided to leave him with his buddies that got killed with him," he says.

The more answers Petrie found, the greater his interest grew. A level of history with both first-hand and academic knowledge of the sacrifices made during times of war, the facts he found during his quest only enhanced his appreciation of the men who landed at Normandy amid a hail of bullets, then trudged through dense forest and deep snow, enduring incredible hardships to complete a task that, for the Free World, could only have one outcome.

"It was very exciting to find that my uncle was a hero," Petrie says. "I went back to the Battle of the Bulge to get more insight on where he was, what he went through, the winter he went through the cold, bitter winter. I was just trying to get back in the journey that he took once they landed in France and started working their way back towards Germany. It was great experience after years of wondering."

Once the medals were gathered together, Petrie brought them to Thayer Parkway in June, and presented them to his mother just a month after Corinne (Marquis) Petrie celebrated her 92nd birthday.

Of that moment, Petrie wrote, "It has been an overwhelming experience for her to leam so much about her brother's military career, 58 years after the date of his death. Mother is at peace, and now knows what an extraordinary soldier her brother was."

"My brother has been gone a long time," Corinne said recently at her home at Thayer Parkway, "and I've thought of him often"

"I never thought my son would pop in with that," she said, motioning to the triangular wooden case,
filled with medals, surrounded by family photos. "I was sick to my heart, and I cried. He died for that."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.