The American flag was sun-faded, somewhat ragged and torn from uncounted storms, a candidate for proper destruction. The flag had flown over the Lonoke County Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the County Courthouse until it had to be replaced.
For Patricia Minton Skinner Jones of Lonoke County, it now is a prized reminder of her father.
"I wanted to do something special this year, and this is more than I could imagine," she said.
With the help of County Veterans Affairs director, Sam High, it also brought the answer to a question that had lingered for Jones for nearly 60 years: Where is her father buried?
Rather than destroy flags from the memorial, Danny Slaughter of Lonoke, who volunteers to maintain the memorial, gives them to the family members of one of those listed on the monument.
An honor guard of American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars members presented the flag to Jones in a brief ceremony at the monument.
Jones’ father, Robert L. Minton, was one of those soldiers killed during World War II, a casualty of D-Day — the June 6, 1944 landing of Allied troops on Normandy beach on the coast of France.
Jones said she does not remember her father. She was about two years old when Robert Minton last held her, but her mother and other family members kept his memory alive.
"Everyone talked to me about dad and told me things he would do," Jones said. Also, there is a now-tattered scrap album of mementos of her father.
"Whenever I had my picture taken, my mother would put this by me," Jones said, holding up bi-fold framed pictures of Robert Minton. Whenever she introduced me, I was "Robert Lee’s daughter," she said.
Her mother later remarried, "But she never stopped loving him," Jones said.
"I know what he was like, and I miss him for that," Jones said, wiping a tear as she held the neatly folded flag.
Jones’ mother-in-law, Louise Skinner, remains close and accompanied her to the ceremony.
"He was a wonderful person, and a good friend," Skinner said. "You could depend on what he said. He was proud to serve his country."
Although he was married and had a child, Robert enlisted in late 1943 because "he loved them and his country," Skinner said. "[Robert] said he would rather fight over there than over here. He did it for us."
Jones said the family has few details of her father’s part in the landing at Normandy.
"We were told he was in one of the first [landing craft]," she said. "In his last letter he told my mother not to be worried if she did not hear from him for a while," Jones said.
Robert Minton was assigned to the 121st Engineer Combat Battalion, which was attached to the 29th Infantry Division for the invasion of Europe. The war records of the 29ID are held by the Maryland National Guard and are currently under the care of the Maryland Military Historical Society with many of them available online.
The 29ID landed at the section designated Omaha Beach. The records list Robert L. Minton as one of those killed in action.
Reports from the 116th Infantry Battalion, which would have included 121st Engineer Battalion, collected after D-Day tell of heroism, of desperation and of the fortunes of war.
The accounts of 116 Battalion, companies A, B, C and D, tell of the deadly fire Robert Minton faced regardless of which landing craft he was on, particularly that faced by A Company.
The fate of A Company, on the first wave, was pieced together from accounts of survivors. The opening paragraph warns, "These notes were prepared by GC with seven survivors of the company…" In Army organization, a company has 80-225 soldiers.
"[‘A’ company commander] Captain Taylor N. Fellers and Lieut Benjamin R. Kearfott had come in with 30 men from ‘A’ aboard LCA1015, but what happened to that boat team in detail will never be known. Every man was killed; most of the bodies were found along the beach."
"It is estimated by the men that one-third of ‘A’ remained by the time ‘B’ hit the beach…" some 90 minutes after the first landing, the account states.
"German machine gunners along the cliff directly ahead were now firing straight down into the party…
"Within 7-10 minutes after the ramps had dropped, ‘A’ had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. The company was entirely bereft of officers …
"In those first 5-10 confused minutes when the men were fighting the water, dropping their arms and even their helmets to save themselves from drowning, and learning by what they saw that they [sic] landing had deteriorated into a personal struggle for personal survival, every sergeant was either killed or wounded…
"It seemed to the others that enemy snipers had spotted their leaders and had directed their fire so as to exterminate them…"
Soldiers abandoned sinking landing craft or were deployed too far from shore and immediately sank, weighed down by equipment. Many of those who shed their equipment and made for shore were shot while they swam.
"Those who reached the sands crawled back and forth into the water, pulling men to the land to save them from drowning, in many cases, only to have them shot out of their hands or to be hit themselves while in these exertions…"
"Within 20 minutes of striking the beach, ‘A’ had ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party…"
The account tells of some the company’s survivors joining other units.
"Otherwise, ‘A’s contribution to the attack appears to have been a cypher [sic]. The few survivors stayed at the cliff bottom during the afternoon and joined the [battalion] that night."
In the B Company account: "’B’ was supposed to come in and land top of the ‘A’ landing … But the smoke and dust of battle had wholly obscured the scene by the time ‘B’ arrived, with the result that the landmarks were invisible and the coxswain became confused. Whether this worked out badly for ‘A,’ it at least became good fortune for some of ‘B’s teams, though a few suffered as hard a fate as ‘A,’" the report notes.
The account said that the soldiers who landed at the sides of A Company’s position were able to achieve "limited penetrations." However, those who landed at "A" company’s position "were similarly cancelled out."
Part of B Company landed with only four to six soldiers missing, "The men and their equipment were dry and in good shape." The lengthy report tells of the company moving inland, securing a number of positions.
From C Company comes an account of landing in the face of light small arms fire and suffering no casualties. The C Company report tells of soldiers penetrating hundreds of yards inland, clearing positions and threats.
The D Company account tells of more staggering numbers of casualties. The lead landing craft was struck by either a mine or artillery, killing the captain immediately, and was sunk. The soldiers abandoned the craft and were targeted by mortar and artillery barrages as well as machine-gun fire.
"The men estimate that only half the men reached the beach," the report states.
However, once on the beach, D Company was able to regroup and move inland, finally linking with C Company and the First Battalion later in the day.
Accounts note that by the end of D-day, the 29ID had suffered more than 4,000 casualties.
Robert Minton is now buried in Butlerville, his remains brought home in the early 1950s at the expense of her grandparents, Jones said.
She said she remembers the funeral, and the coffin.
"It was bright and shiny. It was new. It made me wonder if my dad was really in it," she recalled. That question remained unanswered for 60 years.
Jones said she mentioned her concern to High, who explained the procedures used to identify and record the remains of American military members killed in combat.
"[High] told me how identification is done, and how they know who is where. And he told me that when the remains are brought back they are in new coffins. It makes me feel much better," Jones said.