Men of D-Day


    
 Troop Carrier
Michael N. Ingrisano
Robert E. Callahan
Benjamin F. Kendig
John R. Devitt
Arthur W. Hooper
Ward Smith
Julian A. Rice
Charles E. Skidmore
Sherfey T. Randolph
Louis R. Emerson Jr.
Leonard L. Baer
Robert D. Dopita
Harvey Cohen
Zane H. Graves
John J. Prince
Henry C. Hobbs
John C. Hanscom
Charles S. Cartwright
 
 82nd Airborne
Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr.
Marie-T Lavieille
Denise Lecourtois
Howard Huebner
Malcolm D. Brannen
Thomas W. Porcella
Ray T. Burchell
Robert C. Moss
Richard R. Hill
Edward W. Shimko
 
 101st Airborne
John Nasea, Jr
David 'Buck' Rogers
Marie madeleine Poisson
Roger Lecheminant
Dale Q. Gregory
George E. Willey
Raymond Geddes
 
 Utah Beach
Joseph S. Jones
Jim McKee
Eugene D. Shales
Milton Staley
 
 Omaha Beach
Melvin B. Farrell
James R. Argo
Carl E. Bombardier
Robert M. Leach
Joseph Alexander
James Branch
John Hooper
Anthony Leone
George A. Davison
James H. Jordan
Albert J. Berard
Jewel M. Vidito
H. Smith Shumway
Louis Occelli
John H. Kellers
Harley A. Reynolds
John C. Raaen
Wesley Ross
Richard J. Ford
William C. Smith
Ralph E. Gallant
James W. Gabaree
James W. Tucker
Robert Watson
Robert R. Chapman
Robert H. Searl
Leslie Dobinson
William H. Johnson
 
 Gold Beach
George F. Weightman
Norman W. Cohen
Walter Uden
 
 Juno Beach
Leonard Smith
 
 Sword Beach
Brian Guy
 
 6th Airborne
Roger Charbonneau
Frederick Glover
Jacques Courcy
Arlette Lechevalier
Charles S. Pearson
 
 U.S.A.A.F
Harvey Jacobs
William O. Gifford
 
Civils
Philippe Bauduin
Albert Lefevre
René Etrillard
Suzanne Lesueur
 

 

  Arlette Lechevalier
Merville

Since April 20th, 1944 and the weeks following, our region, and our village of Merville, was bombed by the Allies. The dead and destroyed houses multiplied, and my mother, Mrs. Lechevalier, having fear for her acquaintances and family, two small boys, 5 year old Christopher and 3 year old Foucald, their mother, and her own son Noel and I, Arlette, decided to leave Merville and move all of us into an underground shelter at Breville. This shelter was part of a beautiful and old house that was the family property of our grand parents Gautier-Leveque.

After one week of being there, events became more and more serious. On the coast, bombing continued repeatedly at the city of Le Havre. German troops came in reinforcement, and, after the brief visit of a German Officer, our house became a primary military encampment. We had nothing to say about this - they occupied all the principal rooms and the left wing of the house. We had only the right wing to remain in and to see each day the destruction of our property. I sadly remember my grandma's old, beautiful, and large Normand wardrobe that was converted into a doghouse. And our small, beautiful old kids' beds that were broken up and used to fuel the Germans' enormous watchfire.

This unbearable and destructive cohabitation had to durate through the last two weeks of May, prior to the night of June 5th and 6th of 1944, and it showed us each day that something big was about to happen. The troops' activities increased - they were digging trenches in the kitchen garden, making shelters in the woods behind the house in which artillery pieces were then placed, while filling small ditches with crates of ammunition.

The last week prior to the invasion, we had received the order to always remain inside the house, and to close the shutters - we were to remain unseen. It was the massive and noisy arrival of an elite German corps and SS officers, and also the honor guards of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.
It is, thus, behind these shutters that we saw, in the main entry to our garden, this field marshall. This small fellow with a tremendously large reputation, was observing Hitler's combat troops marching in review for him.

Some days after this event, bad weather set in on our homeland, Normandy. The coast was hammered on by rain and wind, and the sea was rough. And yet it was from 11 o clock on the evening of June 5th to the day of June 6th that we realized the coming of a great event: The Allied Invasion with phosphorus bombs (which caused burning) dropped by English and Scottish aircraft. We saw this in plain day, and, in the sky, hundreds of combat ready paratroopers with blackened faces. What a panic amongst the population! The Germans, surprised by the unexpected, were incapable of regrouping to receive orders. Then it was a fight of one army group against another, and, the machineguns, at point blank range, started in on the paratroopers that had unfortunately landed in trees, helplessly suspended there by their risers. Casualties - soldiers and civilians began falling rapidly. Thus, at dawn, the trees and smashed roofs had empty parachutes tethered to them that were blowing like cocoons in the wind. Likewise, the fields were like airfields covered with gliders from which came, all night long, soldiers, trained in England to fight immediately, which they did without hesitation.
While restricted in a room on the first story of the house…what could we do with my sister's two children. Foucald, who was very fragile with a bronchial disorder - is it better to leave during the chaos, or wait for a hopeful and fast deliverance of the village, which was promised by the Allies? However, during this moment of reflection, providence helped us, without doubt, as my mother came in haste with our grandmother's old groundskeeper, who persuaded us to quickly leave the house, as the men there were fighting. The walls collapsed under the repeated shock of the shells being fired by the naval ships out in the sea, obviously near Ouistreham. Aircraft strafed the village, and destroyed all the homes with their tracer bullets, and phosphorus/incendiary bombs causing fire. It was, thus, with two children in our arms, that we left the room to hide ourselves a few meters away in a trench that had been dug along the edge of a hedgerow. During these rainy hours, in the middle of a hellish battlefield with noise of aircraft overhead, artillery, and machineguns, we remained there, tightly huddled together, without saying anything while trying to protect, the best that we could, Christopher and Foucald.

Between two waves of bombings, a lost young soldier, without doubt, approached us, and emptied the cartridges from his weapon into the grass. He informed us that he was Polish, and did not want to fight for the Germans, but was forced to. He generously gave us his blanket from his backpack for the children, and then left us, only to be severely wounded shortly afterwards by the gate on the edge of the property. The horror of war was quite present, and in our view.

It was only until the passing of the morning of June 6th that a quiet calmness existed around us - more soldiers in view - the dead under smoking rubble - some shots being fired from Alentours. We had to relocate our refuge, which was still intact, dry ourselves out from the rain, eat, and, if possible, sleep. My brother saw the German garrison not yet destroyed, and decided to risk going there to find something to eat - he brought us back a mess kit with food to share with everyone in the room on the first level of the house: the kitchen, situated underneath us, was already half destroyed by the shells fired by the naval ships.

This break in intense and nearby combat of some hours did not permit the paratroopers to deliver us from the German occupants. In the evening, German reinforcements, well-armed with large amounts of war materials, retook the position facing the Allies, placing their renovated force on the plain next to Ranville, a town that is near the river and canal that connect Caen to the sea. So, the hail of bullets and firing of artillery behind the house once again started with intensity - we were pinned down between the two armies. This time it was less possible to move - machinegun and mortar rounds lodged themselves into the walls of the bedroom. Plaster particles got into our eyes as the plaster fell. Seeing the danger continue, my brother placed the base of the bed against the wall and used the mattress to cork the window and absorb the bullets and shrapnel from artillery blasts. In this way, stretched out under the bed, we lived through a hell-like nonstop firefight that lasted 56 hours. I must tell you that my mother recited a prayer with her rosary in an intense voice to hasten a response: heaven kept watch over us, and, without doubt, we were spared.

After this assault, Christophe, was the first to get out from under the bed; he wanted to get out and, being a healthy eater with a growling stomach, he asked "dear mother, dear mother, I want some slices of bread and butter"! After a moment of reflection, my mother said that there must be some leftover bread and perhaps some butter in the dining room, but that meant going there to get it. She believed that this moment of calmness was a favorable time to satisfy Christopher, and with him she went to the dining room, however, their silouhette, without doubt visible outside of the house, provoked the firing of a bullet that passed between Christopher and Mom. The bullet, happily, lodged itself in the old clock that stood against the wall, after having passed through my sister's school knapsack, which was hung by the window. Mom and Christopher wanted to quickly return to us under the bed base. A piece of German bread was the only food found!

For the duration of about a week, life resumed under the German's rule, with artillery fire, and the large incoming shells from the allied naval ships. The stormy sea would not allow the downloading of the much needed allied invasion materials to continue, in order for the invasion to continue.
My sister and mother, from time to time, risked going to the neighboring farm to get a fresh provision of supplies. They stored that which could be utilized again in the kitchen, which was battle-damaged, and was open to all winds, as well as the German gun crews that resided in the shelters and trenches to hunt the English and Scottish paratroopers that were scattered over the surrounding countryside.

One afternoon, my brother saw two abandoned German bicycles sitting outside during a storm of gunfire. They quickly returned to the kitchen thinking that these bikes might sometime come in handy. Once again, this joyous opportunity had to fade away. That same evening of the day when the bicycles had been seen, which was considered a godsend, my brother found himself face to face with two Germans in the kitchen. A discussion began between them: "Sir - these are stolen German bicycles - paratroopers are hidden here". Hearing from the bedroom that the German soldier's words had become threatening, my sister went into the kitchen and told the Germans that she was the one whom had put the bikes there. The discussion stopped, however, my brother, with a Lugar poked into his back, had to go with one of the German soldiers through each room of the house where a paratrooper would have been hiding. Fortunately no paratroopers were found, and my brother was released. During this time, the other German soldier took the bikes and put them outside behind the wall; almost immediately a round of artillery fire landed on the corner of the wall, which smashed the bikes to pieces. This matter was settled!

Our hope of seeing this nightmare come to an end was not yet to become true. During the following night, the two kids started to cry, and called for us. One had an upset stomach and headache, and both had a fever. When the day permitted us to see them, it was clear that they both had the measles. We did not know what to do?

The Germans, once again in charge of the area, circulated throughout the entire damaged house, and suddenly a noise made by boots on the stairway was not reassuring to us - indeed after some minutes we saw three Germans enter the room, whom were then astounded to find us there, and thus, said to us Raoust. He did the same thing in the next room to the wounded young Polish soldier that we had taken in thinking that the English might be able to rescue him. What became of him? As for us, very quickly with gun barrels at our backs, and kids in our hands, they took us outside and said to us "If you go to the sea, all is Kapput"! So, with the sick kids as comfortably placed as possible in an old baby carriage with four wheels still in decent condition, we permanently left our old beloved residence at Breville, the cradle for many generations of our family that had lived out days of happiness and youth, adulthood, to ripe old ages.

Thus we left there wandering down the road to Gonneville, looking for safe paths of passage in between the enourmous artillery holes, and a safe haven of rest to take shelter for the night.
The bad weather continually raged, and we advanced with difficulty. After a forced stop caused by a machinegun, we were half-sitting in a large bomb crater when suddenly we saw coming to us two exhausted English soldiers, devoid of all, including guns, not knowing where to go. They were separated from their battalion, and so saw some small houses of produce farmers placed in pastures at Gonneville. We made them understand that we were hopefully going to find a shed there for us and for them to hide in order to avoid the German machineguns.
It was during this evening that we found a small barn in which to take refuge. There was only straw and hay on the floor on which to sleep. Christopher and Foucauld, quite laden with fever, were placed securely under an animal feeding trough, where they were more protected from gunfire and artillery blasts. As for the two paratroopers, they found a nearby attic lined with hay where they could more easily hide themselves, and we gave them some food without being seen by the Germans.
Night came, and we started to prepare our beds of straw when we heard someone outside speaking French - what a surprise! A brave peasant, Father Bouillaut with his grandson, had escaped the burning hell at Breville. Along with them came the only living cow that they had left. The cow had not been milked for two days, and once again provided the best warm and creamy milk of a Normandy cow that appeased the hunger of our empty stomachs.
As for the two sick kids, my mother had given them as a remedy some thick cider that was in an old barrel - was this better than nothing? Nobody knows!
The next day, and for a good many days thereafter, we lived surrounded by German soldiers - this time SS - forcefully searching the country and villages. They arrived just after us, and asked us if we had seen any paratroopers. Of course, our response was negative, and, to reassure themselves, they entered into our miserable living quarters and poked their bayonettes methodically into and across the pile of straw that stood in front of our little farm building.
Their visit continued. This time they entered the battle-damaged house where the paratroopers were hidden in the hay up in the attic. This time we thought that our last hour had come. We watched in silence while the Germans took the stairway to the first story, and then entered into the first dilapidated rooms open to the wind, and there, by some miracle, they stopped before the attic stairway and came back down. What a relief! God was praised, for one more time we were all alive! However, it was clear that our stay here couldn't last a long time: the incessant bombings on us intensified, and we could not light a fire to cook the raw vegetables that had been uprooted by the artillery explosions in the produce fields, for the Allied Aircraft would bomb even the slightest column of smoke seen from the sky. We could only then eat lettuce, raw carrots, artichokes, and sometimes ripe strawberries and July pears.
As for our clothes, they were worn and dirty. One morning, when the fighting had suddenly slackenedd, and there was sunshine in the sky, mom and I washed, without soap, two short sleeved shirts. We hoped to hang these shirts out on the hedge so that they would be dry by evening. Hunger and distress reigned over beast and man, and a stray cow passing before men became their feast without us being able to intervene!! As for our shoes: they had wooden soles that absorbed water and mud like sponges: my sister and I could not envision taking to the road in bare feet. It was then, after searching a small cellar underneath the rubble, that we saw some farmer's shoes. Unfortunately these were not in pairs, so, one had to be contented with mixing and matching, and then putting hay inside to make them fit.

Thus, each day, our lives became more unpleasant. The kids' cases of measles did not improve. We needed to find a medical center that still had doctors working in it. The direction towards the town of Troarn was an area still free of bombardment, and we made our decision based on that aspect. We felt it necessary to explain to the paratroopers our reasons for departing. They understood us, and we regretfully parted ways with them, hoping that luck would bring us together later at Merville or Breville. This is how our destinies went.
That morning, on the backside of Gonneville, a town in which everyone had left, we were calm and filled with new courage to face danger during our departure with the two kids back in the old baby carriage. It was there, after we had covered much distance, although uncomfortable in our farmer's shoes, across fields churned up by artillery blasts, that we made it to the Troarn Road. On this road, by divine intervention, we met a priest of Troarn, also an old priest of Notre Dame, who remembered Mom, and yelled to us "Mrs Lechevalier I know you - come to the presbytery to rest and eat - we still have bread". How marvelous - we had forgotten the taste of bread since some weeks ago! This man of God received us with great warmth and kindness. He comforted us and cheered us up - we lost all sense of the unpleasantness of this particular time in our lives, and also delayed our voyage there by two days. The priest gave us food to take with us. Seeing the Germans arrive by trucks and take control of this community, he advised us to depart to the village of Janville, like many others, as this village was situated behind the front out in the country. He advised us well, as the battle was not going to wait on us - the first bombings started at Troarn during the night, when we arrived at Janville, where we lodged on the first story of a school that had been transformed into a house for the numerous refugies.
Ms. Quintaine, the lead school teacher, lived with her mother. Both of them assisted us with great kindness. They were quite wary of a group of German soldiers assigned to Troarn, that were staying in one of the classrooms in which only a wooden partition separated the Germans' room from Ms. Quintaine's small office. Being quite active out in the country, we found a small radio, most likely abandoned by a paratrooper who landed in the night in this community. This precious object gave us great service to secretly listen to the news of the Allied advance, and, to not attract the attention of the nearby Germans, we played loud music from records that were available for students of the school. Thus, the Germans did not know that we knew of the battles at Caen, Ouistreham, and the progress of the English in spite of the loss of human life.

The end of June became yet another time for us to be very worried, as Christopher developed a new complication, without doubt from having the measles. He became weaker each day, and one morning, seeing that he no longer responded to his own name, my sister, in distress, departed through the field to find help at Troarn, in spite of the ongoing battle and the bombed road. After hours of worrying and waiting, the door to the room opened abruptly. My sister appeared with a German jacket on her shoulders and hat on her head. The German doctor traveling with her had given her these garments so that she could travel unnoticed in a German Army car that had an open top. Saying nothing to us, the German doctor approached the sick child, made a careful examination, and then, from his medical kit, pulled out a small white pill that he cut in two, and, with great difficulty to speak French, he said to us: "give ½ this evening, and the other half tomorrow morning after having wrapped the child in a cloth saturated with cold water". He added the phrase "This is a well-known pneumonia, and put his things away and quickly left".
What were we to do after he left?
Was he a genuine doctor that wanted to save a life, or, like the others of his kind, was it the occasion for him to shorten the days of a child? The medicine and way of healing that he had prescribed seemed quite strange to we French!
This risky solution was imposed upon us, but understanding Christopher's condition, the decision was made. Mom wrapped him in a sheet saturated in cold water, and my sister made him swallow the first half of the white tablet, and saying nothing, he fell asleep. The night seemed long, but in the morning Christopher opened his eyes. His fever had lessened, and we looked upon him with relief. This gave us confidence in the German doctor's instructions, and, without hesitation, our little man had swallowed the second half of the miraculous pill.
And for us, the surprise of this healing was about to be confirmed, when several hours later the footsteps of a man were heard in the stairway, and then a knock on the door. Mom opened the door, and the German doctor from the day before entered the room and looked with satisfaction upon his little sick patient that was alive and well. He made us understand that this common pneumonia was stopped, then said goodbye, and descended down the stairs to depart in his car.
There was, thus, at Troarn, a real German doctor of which Christopher, a little Frenchman, owed his life.

Another important liberating event of our fears and sadnesses of bloody days was to bring, to my mother first, then I and my sister, a great joy: the unexpected return of my brother at Janville during the early hours of morning. It must be said that we were without news of him since the sad bygone days spent at Gonneville, where he had been stopped and forced to board a German truck with two other French youth for an unknown destination. What became of them? The Germans didn't waste much time with citizens under the Occupation that resisted obligatory work in Germany. How many had they shot beside the country roads, and in the woods? Without speaking about it amongst ourselves, we thought within the depths of ourselves that they were living in some other place and would return. This hope became true at dawn for it was necessary not to wake the nearby sleeping Germans in the school. Also it was without noise that the door to the room opened, and that we immediately saw the forms of two men appear that we knew: my brother Noel, and Jean Bouilleaut (bwee-yo) de Breville (bray-veel); this was an emotional moment with intimate and profound joy shared between us. We were renewed, reunited, and alive! But their exhaustion was such from their nocturnal voyage through the swamps of Varaville, areas that had been flooded by the Germans, that they laid down on our mattresses that were on the floor to sleep; the injured feet of Jean were bare and bloody. For the entire day, they never opened their eyes - their sleep was long and deep!

With further time, they remained at our lodging, as it was impossible to exit into the middle of the Germans who would immediately send them back into obligatory war production work. Their fate once again became critical. We searched for a solution. The solution was found through the grace of a good friend of my brother's - an active member of the French Resistance in our Normandy region. The two survivors, in silence and unseen by the Germans, were taken to a place that was not revealed to us.

The following days at Janville became more and more dangerous. The artillery shells fired from Troarn landed near us. We were still in Janville in July, a month after the famous night of June 6th, 1944. We asked how to avoid ending up being in a burning hell, and of dying with our two little men. Christopher was still feeling badly after having just recuperated from his serious illness, and still needed care. The outcome had to arrive providentially by an outing my mother made for food. She unexpectedly met Mr. Brillard, our roofer at Merville, who had prevented the destruction of our small community truck and gasoline. He wanted to flee, at all cost, the battles and bombings that began again to result in the death of many French civilians. Thus, he asked my mother to leave with him, moving in the direction of the Orne region. For us, the prospect of a definite reunion seemed marvelous. Our grandmother lived at La Ferte-Mace, where her son, the notary public, lived with his wife and three daughters. And perhaps, we would have the joy of finding my sister Anne, who had been in Caen since June to give the third exam that must be passed for her students in the fourth year of secondary school (ages 14-15). We knew nothing of how she was doing. Had she, without doubt, helped and supported the civilians during the terrible bombings on Caen, where so many civilians found the dead each day by the hundreds under the piles of building rubble or trapped in the wine cellars underneath the old hotels particularly, and the old middle-class homes of this old city?

The departure that we agreed upon was actively prepared, but without having awoke the German troops patrolling this sector, and their machineguns and rifles always in a position ready to kill. Mr. Brillard, quite aware of the dangers of our travel on the Falaise road, informed us that we would leave on a morning when it was cloudy and overcast, in order to avoid being strafed by low flying aircraft.
The meteorlogic conditions hoped for came to be the second week of July, and, on the day chosen to depart, my brother returned from hiding and was with us for the departure, thus, our small family was all present, in the back of an uncovered truck along with many other refugies. The sky was very somber, with large clouds that seemed to tell us that the moment was favorable for us to set out upon the road of liberation. A part of a white sheet was attached to the top of a large wooden handle, and was constantly waved during the journey so that the fighter planes had to identify us as ordinary civilians fleeing the fighting. Equipped in this way, we took turns holding up and waving the flag as high as possible so that we would successfully reach the Falaise road. There, a new spectacle of war awaited us. On both sides of the road, two armies were having a raging battle with armored vehicles. In the rich plain between Caen and Falaise, in the middle of wheat that was on fire, we saw in this inferno bunches of small fires - some twisted and buckled tanks were at their ending stages of burning. It was necessary to go quickly to escape from being massacred. Happily, the truck moved as quickly as possible without stopping for even an instant, braving the unforeseen conflicts of the war. Our flag made of a piece of a sheet, which flew high above our heads - it was necessary for us to easily differentiate our truck from military trucks that passed us - fortunately there were only a few!
It is in this way, after some hours on the road that seemed very long, that we reached Falaise, which had already been mostly destroyed by aerial bombardments. We traveled, without problem, halfway across on the main road. My mother immediately indicated to Mr. Brillard the road on the right as the one that reaches the Orne region, where the town of La Ferte-Mace was located, in a region still spared the horrors of war.

During a midday lunch, our chauffeur, unexpectedly and quite surprisingly, stopped at Thiers Avenue, in front of my grandmother's house. With the noise of the truck, all the guests inside the house got up from the table. My Uncle Pierre, the first next to my grandmother, immediately rushed out and yelled: "At last everyone is alive and here"! What a reunion of undescribable joy, unforgettable after much suffering and constant insecurity, while having seen death daily.
This time the family was all together. My sister Ann was also there, thanks to an old bicycle that she successfully rode, in increments, after the bombings on on the city of Caen, to reach La Ferte-Mace .

It is there, grace to our grandmother, and to the gentleness of recovered family life, that our tragic experiences of the Allied Invasion found closure.
Quickly, the small town, deserted by the fleeing Germans, was delivered by the Americans. We had the biggest joy to see them arrive in great numbers, happily, on their tanks, and us, we placed French flags of blue, white, and red out of our windows, the emblem of liberated France.

Arlette Lechevalier

Translation from French by Thad J. Russell