Geert is a Normandy tour guide who specializes in creating personalized tours for D-Day veterans and their families. www.normandyheroes.com He is just the nicest guy, speaks French, English and several other languages fluently, and really knows his stuff. I found Geert before our trip, thanks to several recommendations from other tour companies I had contacted through web searches, and before we left the states, passed along the information I had available on my uncle’s time in the service. Geert did more researching on his end and in the end took us to nine locations that in some way or another were related to Frank. More than that, we came to appreciate in a small way what may happened in those three weeks, from the time my uncle landed until he was killed. It was an emotional day and the highlight of the trip.
We’ll have to do it in two parts, too much to cover in one.
Dad and Uncle John read the inscription on the monument, while Geert uses the figure to illustrate how much baggage the troopers jumped with. The emergency shoot in the front, over an equipment bag, knife in the boot, main weapon against the body, small weapons and other supplies stuffed into pockets.
The mission of the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne was to take bridges, roads, crossroads and towns across the Cotentin Peninsula, disrupting the German defense in advance of the coming landing of troops at Utah Beach. Cloud cover and anti-aircraft fire forced the pilots to take evasive action, missing their drop zones badly. Paratroopers were spread out over 20 miles of where they were supposed to be, making it impossible in some instances to meet up with their units and officers. (It turns out that Frank’s company commander landed in Fresville, where our rented house is, but we are pretty sure Frank was not with him.) There were many casualties that first day from drowning in the Merederet River and surrounding flooded marshlands. Because my uncle was in one of the lead planes, and based on the records of other men in his plane (or stick), Geert and other researchers are fairly confident that Frank landed relatively close to his designated drop zone, Drop Zone T, near Amfreville.
The 507th was assigned to gain control of the area near the village of Amfreville, a few miles west of Ste. Mere Eglise. There were three main areas of military action, and we are fairly sure that Frank was at one and possibly two of these sites, we just don’t know which: the site were Col. Millet and half of his men were captured, Lt. Col. Timmes’ Orchard where Timmes and his men held out for 3 days, and The La Fière Bridge, which a mixed group of paratroopers successfully captured and held. Geert took us to all three spots, explained the significance of each and how they were connected. There is lots information available on the activities of the 82nd, for one specifically relate to the bridge see historynet.com/world-war-ii-capturing-the-la-fiere-causeway.htm
Our next stop is lunch in Ste. Mere Eglise, but first we visit the church there. Ste. Mere Eglise was the first town in France to be liberated by the Americans (the English liberated the first town on the east side of the invasion beaches.) The Airborne Museum across the street is fantastic, and tells the story of the battle for the town and the actions of the paratroopers in the subsequent days and weeks. The movie, “The Longest Day” (a bit too much John Wayne for mine and my dad’s tastes, but lays out the basic facts well enough) features the scene were John Steele gets hung up on the church steeple. Today, a dummy parachutist hangs from a steeple, but on the wrong side (apparently makes for better photos, I’m told).
The town has grown much bigger and busier than when my father was there 14 years ago. But one thing remains, the people there and everywhere we go in Normandy have not forgotten the Americans, and remain grateful for the allies’ liberation of France.
Geert helps us, thank goodness, order lunch at a bistro and it is quite tasty..