Not Forgotten

Date : Sunday, May 24, 2009

Andre in US Army Uniform

Andre’s Purple Heart hangs in the Hall of Valor at VMI

Names of VMI Cadets killed in WWII

World War II Memorial in Lee Plaza in Roanoke, Virginia

Andre's father, John Fallwell, served in the US Army in WWI. He met Andre's mother while in France.

His mother, Henrietta Fallwell, with her grandchildren. Rick Dunlap standing with tie on; and, Anne Dunlap sitting on Mrs. Fallwell's lap.

Jacques M. Fallwell – Brother

Marie Lydia Fallwell Dunlap - Sister

Andre's bother-in-law and Marie's husband, Richard F. Dunlap. He served in WWII in the South Pacific where he received two Purple Hearts, Bronze Star and the Silver Star Metals.

Andre Fallwell spent his first Christmas Eve away from home on a frozen battlefield in a snow-covered European forest.

Back home in Roanoke, the Fallwell family prepared their Westover Avenue home for the holiday. Andre's sister, Marie, had returned from her first year at Randolph-Macon Woman's College and passed time by helping clean the house. While cleaning, Marie knocked over a picture frame that held her older brother's portrait. The frame crashed to the floor and the glass shattered. At that moment, Marie had a horrible thought.

"I'll never see my brother again."

The next day, Christmas, Andre Fallwell was killed in Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge.

He was cut down one month shy of his 21st birthday, a life teeming with vast potential snuffed out. These many years later, he would have been forgotten, his exploits on the athletic fields and in the classrooms of Jefferson High School lost to history. His name would have been just an inscription among scores of others etched into the Roanoke Valley War Memorial in Roanoke's Lee Plaza.

He is not forgotten, however, because of this simple fact: Andre Fallwell was a writer. He wrote poems and letters that have long outlived him and will continue to do so.

On Oct. 25, 1944, exactly two months before he was killed, Fallwell wrote a poem in tribute to the freedom-fighting casualties of World War II. That poem, "Lest You Forget," appears on a bronze plaque that sits near Lee Plaza's three solemn marble pillars inscribed with nearly 800 names of the valley's war dead, which include Fallwell's.

Even though he seemed to be writing about the men who died on D-Day -- "We piled into assault boats bobbing high ... We left there in the sand our native blood" -- his words ring with eerie premonition:

"Lest you forget --
Our fight is over now, and it is won:
But we are not alive to share the goal
Of glory, Only see that all your sons
Recall our guns --
Before the drums have ceased to roll!"

On Memorial Day, the sons, grandsons, daughters, granddaughters and even great-grandchildren of the World War II generation will gather at Lee Plaza and read those words of a man, a boy, really, who, like so many others, died far too young.

An all-around student Andre Poiteven Fallwell was born, raised and educated in Roanoke, one of three children born to a World War I veteran and his French war bride.

His father, John Fallwell, grew up in an orphanage near Richmond and never forgot what it was like to be poor. He became Roanoke's first director of public welfare and was a lifelong advocate of the indigent.

Andre's mother, the estimable Henriette Messager Fallwell, was perhaps an even greater public servant than her husband. Henriette, who came to the United States with her soldier husband in 1919, was a beloved teacher at Jefferson and Patrick Henry high schools, where she taught French for more than 30 years and claimed awards and commendations the way a war hero accumulates medals. She was also the source for her three children's French names -- Jacques, Andre and Marie.

By all accounts, Andre Fallwell was an exceptional, well-rounded student at Jefferson High School, from which he graduated in 1941. He gave speeches, played the piano and even wrote and starred in a satirical play that mocked Adolf Hitler. He also excelled in football and track at Jefferson and earned a boxing scholarship while at the University of Virginia.

"Everybody loved him, that's the honest truth," said Richard West, who lives in Roanoke and who went to school with Fallwell and ran track with him.

"Andre played football and was a hurdler. He was a brilliant poet, too. He did everything the right way. I can't think of anybody finer." West, 87, recalled rooming with Fallwell during a track meet at Duke University. Fallwell claimed second place in the hurdles and West finished second in the mile run.

"We got medals that meant something," West said. "Now, they give you the kitchen sink if you just show up. Andre and myself came back from this big meet at Duke University proud of our silver medals." And, Fallwell wasn't a bad-looking fellow.

"Both he and his sister Marie had the prettiest, rosey cheeks," West remembered. "They looked like dolls." In addition to West, who went on to sell high-end automobiles for more than 50 years, Fallwell's boyhood friends included a roster of young men who became pillars of Roanoke's business and legal worlds. The late Circuit Court Judge Jack Coulter was perhaps his best friend, and the two stayed in touch right up until Fallwell's death.

It is not difficult to project Fallwell as a community leader, had he survived.

"He was a talented man on so many fronts," said Rick Dunlap, son of Andre's sister, Marie Fallwell Dunlap. His father was Richard Dunlap, a former president of the Norfolk & Western Railway. Both parents died in the 1990s.

Rick Dunlap said his mother always wondered what career her brother would have chosen had he lived through the war.

"She thought maybe he would have been a journalist," Dunlap said. "Maybe a television journalist. He was creative, personable and he loved to write."

A tribute to D-Day Inspired by the war effort, Fallwell left UVa after only one year and enrolled at Virginia Military Institute in 1942. As the war raged, he left VMI and enlisted in the Army in May 1943. The next year, he was sent to the Army Specialized Training Program in Newark, N.J., a program designed to train gifted soldiers as officers.

However, the Army desperately needed infantrymen as the war in Europe ground on. Fallwell was sent to Fort McClellan, Ala., then shipped to France, his mother's homeland, in August 1944. There, he joined the Third Army commanded by Gen. George Patton.

Two months later, during what was likely a brief respite as the Third rolled through France, Fallwell put pen to paper and wrote about an invasion he had not witnessed, but had felt obligated to describe as a memorial to those who gave the last full measure of sacrifice:

"Lest you forget --
We piled into assault boats bobbing high,
And charged the beach amid the thundering roar,
Meanwhile the winds and dismal rain whipped by
To watch us die
On Europe's battered, bleeding shore!"

As winter approached, Fallwell made arrangements to visit his maternal grandmother, who still lived in France. Those plans were scuttled on Dec. 16, 1944, when German forces smashed through Allied lines in the Ardennes region in a colossal attempt to change the tide of the war.

The Battle of the Bulge had begun. The Third Army was dispatched to help turn back the Germans. Private Andre Fallwell, who served as a scout, worked well in front of the lines as the Third headed north toward Luxembourg.

What might have been Jack Coulter had recently graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was about to ship to the South Pacific when he received the last letter he ever got from his friend. It arrived in early December, 1944, barely two weeks before Fallwell was killed.

"If perchance we never meet again, I want you to think of me as part of all the things we've both given up -- part of all the gaiety and frivolity of American life as well as part of its earnestness, its work and its struggle for betterment. I am a part of it all -- I feel and live that part to its utmost every day -- whether it measure up to the standards it should or not."

Fallwell wrote about the stresses on combat soldiers and that the folks back home had no clue what war was like. "[N]o one there can imagine what war really is without seeing it firsthand."

After several paragraphs devoted to sacrifice and the price of freedom, Fallwell concluded that, "I'm fighting to get back home, too -- but I want it to be a better and ever improving America. There are so many things yet to be done. ... I want to live in a community where with a clear conscience I can say not only 'I am free' but 'we are free,' and mean it in such a way that everyone is included, regardless of racial, social or political position."

Fallwell's letter appeared in The Roanoke Times on Jan. 26, 1945, a month after he was killed and five days after his memorial service in Roanoke. Coulter had sent the letter to the paper.

Fallwell died early on Dec. 25, 1944, probably struck down by a sniper's bullet as he scouted enemy positions during the Battle of the Bulge. He was buried in a military cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg, where Patton himself would later be buried.

However, the journey was not yet over for Pvt. Fallwell.

The last word In the summer of 1946, Henriette Messager Fallwell was one of 100 American French teachers selected by the French government to visit France for two months. She and her daughter Marie crossed the Atlantic in a troop ship and saw a devastated country, still reeling from five years of war and occupation. The trip had many highlights, which included a reunion with Henriette's 76-year-old mother.

Henriette and Marie made a side journey north to Luxembourg, where they found Andre's grave adorned with fresh flowers. A former Roanoke family living nearby had become caretakers of the grave site.

Two years later, the Fallwells had Andre's body returned to Roanoke, where he is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Henriette Fallwell continued to teach, mostly French, but also Spanish and history. She started French language newspapers at Jefferson and Patrick Henry and she was an active member of the Appalachian Trail Club. She retired from Patrick Henry in 1963 and died two years later, when she was remembered as one of Roanoke's most distinguished teachers. Her husband had died several years before, as had her oldest son, Jacques.

Like Fallwell's last letter, his poem "Lest You Forget" was also published posthumously in The Roanoke Times in 1945. The poem was viewed as suitable for a memorial by local veterans groups, except that there was no World War II memorial in Roanoke until 1982.

Memorial Bridge in Southwest Roanoke had been constructed as a soldiers' memorial in 1926, but veterans groups griped for decades that the bridge was an unsuitable tribute. The debate over a new memorial dragged on until the 1970s, when Coulter, Fallwell's old friend, proposed that a memorial be part of a new Roanoke courthouse. That request was rejected, but city council approved a memorial across the street at Lee Plaza to honor Roanoke's war dead. The Roanoke Valley War Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1982, before a crowd of 2,000. Fallwell's poem has probably been read by thousands of Roanokers who never knew the story of the gifted young man who went to war but never returned, a soldier who gets the last word here.

"On, comrades, on! We stay behind --
The peace is yours to win
The fight claims us, but you will find
Us here for all eternity;
As though we hadn't been
The price for your posterity --
Do you remember when?
And after war deserts our kind,
Will you remember when?"

Sources: Interviews with Andre Fallwell's friends and family members, archival stories from The Roanoke Times and an article from VMI's alumni magazine.

Caption: Andre Fallwell wrote the poem "Lest You Forget" while fighting in France in 1944. 2. JARED SOARES The Roanoke Times - Lee Plaza in Roanoke houses the Roanoke Valley War Memorial. 3. The Roanoke Times archive photo - Pvt. Andre Fallwell wrote "Lest You Forget" two months before he was killed in World War II. (b&w) 4. Pvt. Andre Fallwell (b&w)

The Roanoke Times archives are stored on a SAVE (tm) newspaper library system from NewsBank Media Services