The Jaw Dropping Email From France: Jim Farrell Learns About His Uncle Matty’s Fate
The odds were stacked against Martin Teahan on June 6, 1944. The 20-year-old soldier from the South Bronx was tasked with parachuting into Normandy during the early morning hours of D-Day.
“From what I’ve gathered, he had a pretty good premonition he wasn’t making it,” nephew Jim Farrell said.
His regiment, the 508th Parachute Infantry, dropped 2,056 American boys out of the sky that day. More than half became casualties, including Private Teahan. He landed safely but was killed shortly thereafter.
Six weeks later, Teahan’s mother Nora received a letter from a Colonel Roy Lindquist. It concluded:
“I am not permitted at this time to give you the information I know you wish for, or to disclose the exact burial place . . . In the meantime your son’s personal effects, including military decorations, will be sent to you.”
And that was it. As the decades rolled by, “Uncle Matty” became a mythical figure to the family’s subsequent generations. Farrell’s sister Liz researched what she could and created a profile page in his honor at the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s website.
Still, Uncle Matty remained an intangible, distant figure from a fast-receding era.
In March, the Farrells received a jaw-dropping email. It came from a French army colonel.
He had Uncle Matty’s rifle, and he wanted to send it home.
A Discovery and a Google Search
Most of the Farrell family thought it was a hoax or a scam. But the East Brunswick resident, who works in Wall as chief financial officer of Single Throw Digital Marketing, continued the dialogue.
It turned out Colonel Patrick Collet was a collector of World War II memorabilia. He purchased the M1 Garand rifle from descendants of a farmer, who had found it during the war. Collet could tell from the markings that it belonged to someone in the 508th, and when he saw “M. Teahan” engraved on the rifle’s butt, he felt compelled to find the descendants of its owner.
A simple Google search led him to the profile page Liz created for Uncle Matty.
“It’s illegal to export that rifle,” said Jim Farrell, himself an Army veteran. “The only way to get it back is through the U.S. Army. He invited us over there to see it.”
So Jim and his wife Monica booked an 11-day trip for early June. They would be in Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day.
“The colonel had a couple of surprises for us,” Farrell said.
For Paratroopers, ‘Incredibly Treacherous’
Just how daunting was the task for these World War II paratroopers? I asked Melissa Ziobro, public history professor at Monmouth University and former U.S. Army historian at Fort Monmouth.
“Incredibly treacherous,” she said. “They in many cases were dropped behind enemy lines and didn’t land where they were supposed to. They had little or no communication; they were essentially operating in a vacuum.”
Then Ziobro offered some perspective.
“I look at the students in my classroom,” she said. “They think their deadlines are onerous and that’s fine, those are very real concerns, but think about men of that age being asked to parachute in the dead of night into enemy territory to retake fortress Europe. It’s almost mind-boggling, to think of the youth of America being asked to do that.”
Matty Teahan was 17 years old when he forged his mother’s signature so he could enlist in the army.a
‘Taps’ and a Moving Moment
Fortunately, Americans don’t know what it’s like to be conquered and then liberated. In France, they do.
“To this day the inhabitants of those areas still have incredible respect, incredible love (for the GIs),” Ziobro said. “They continue to keep the memory of what these American GIs sacrificed for them.”
The Farrells witnessed that firsthand. Collet gave them a tour of Normandy’s hallowed grounds, including the stone house where Uncle Matty died.
“From what I gathered, after he landed he went out on a scouting mission, got shot in the leg and got captured,” Jim Farrell said. “Then a German soldier thought he was reaching for a gun — he was limping — and he just killed him. We don’t know for certain.”
They visited his grave, one of many white crosses that line the region. A special guest accompanied them: General Mark Milley, the chief of staff for the U.S. Army.
“We were walking toward my uncle’s grave and they just so happened to play Taps,” Farrell said. “It had nothing to do with us, but you could just feel the emotions coming out when they do that. My wife and I looked at each other. We knew it was a special moment.”
General Milley was touring D-Day’s pivotal places — Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Point Du Hoc — and the Farrells joined his entourage.
“The general at one point patted me on the back and said, ‘I hear you’re donating the rifle to the Pentagon,’” Farrell said. “I was in the army myself and I don’t say no to an officer, let alone a four-star general.”
A special ceremony will take place at the Pentagon in November or December. Uncle Matty’s rifle is going on display.
A Letter Comes Full Circle
Jim Farrell is a never thought of himself as a writer. That’s changed. He’s turning this story into a book. He also curates a related website (www.UncleMattyComesHome.com) and a Facebook page, the latter of which has 32,000 likes.
“It’s obviously an amazing story,” Ziobro said. “(At Fort Monmouth) I had the opportunity to interact with families who were desperate for any information on loved ones who were lost in times of war. I saw people so incredibly grateful for a newspaper article or photo of a loved one. So I can imagine how over-the-moon his family must be.”
The internet and social media have enabled an increasing amount of such connections, Ziobro said, but this is exceptional.
“I’ve heard of dog tags and other identifying equipment (being returned decades later), but I’ve never actually heard of a rifle,” she said.
Seventy-two years after Colonel’s Lindquist letter, a sense of closure has come to Uncle Matty’s legacy.
“My family is just flabbergasted,” Farrell said. “To me and my sister Liz, we both have made the conclusion that the rifle is his way of coming home.”
Read full story here (Asbury Park Press)