August 22, 2019
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Mainer takes helm of America’s most important foreign military cemetery

BELFAST, Maine — A Maine military veteran will oversee the resting place of more than 9,386 American servicemen killed during the Allied invasion of France that helped turn the tide of World War II.

On June 6, the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, Scott Desjardins, a Madawaska native and former U.S. Army cavalry scout and tank crewman, starts his new job as superintendent of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

“I consider myself still serving,” Desjardins said in an email. “But I now serve those who served and gave all. It is important to remember the sacrifice these service members made and to keep their stories fresh.”

In his new post, he’ll oversee the best-known and most-visited overseas American cemetery, which draws more than 1 million visitors each year. He’ll manage a 10-person horticulture crew, a mechanic, mason and administrative assistant, all responsible for maintaining the immaculate 172-acre site. He’ll also represent the company at local D-Day commemorations, run interpretive tours and work with area historical groups and embassies.

An estimated 2,500 Americans died during the D-Day landings, when the Allies stormed the beaches of France, gaining the foothold that ultimately would allow them to push Nazi forces out of France. Thousands more soldiers died as Allied forces pushed through France on their way to liberate Paris.

The first American cemetery on European soil was established two days after the invasion in the village of Colleville-sur-Mer, perched on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, the deadliest of the D-Day landing sites. It later became known as the Normandy American Cemetery.

Desjardins, a 1977 Madawaska High School graduate, entered the Army after school and retired after 20 years, some of which he spent stationed in Korea, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. After his military career ended, he spent 10 years working for a Kentucky company that made industrial lifts and hoists.

A decade ago, he took a job as assistant superintendent of the Meuse Argonne Cemetery in Romagne-sous Montfaucon, France, a World War I burial site near Verdun, through the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission is responsible for maintaining America’s 26 overseas military cemeteries and monuments. He went on to serve as superintendent of the Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France, the burial site for soldiers killed in the southern invasion of France.

Growing up in a bilingual family on the Canadian border gave Desjardins the language skills he needed to work closely with local officials and tour groups visiting the cemeteries, he said.

In 2010, he was selected for his current post — superintendent of the American cemetery in Luxembourg, which commemorates the Battle of the Bulge and is the resting place of Gen. George S. Patton. Patton was buried in Luxembourg following a fatal car crash in December 1945, a few months after the war ended in Europe.

The Normandy site is considered the flagship among ABMC sites.

“I had set a goal for myself of being the Normandy American Cemetery superintendent by 2023,” Desjardins said. “I’m a bit early, but accept the challenge fully.”

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

 



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