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
 

 

Albert Lefevre
Caen - Calvados

"The idiots… they provided us shelter near the railroad tracks!" These provocative, yet silent words addressed our professors (we thought these words, but we did not say them), while I heard the hiss that came progressively nearer, like the smoke and coal dust of locomotives approaching rapidly through the passage to the opening where we waited.

Some of us amused ourselves in the recreational courtyard of the junior high Catholic school named "Le petit Sainte Marie", which was in the center of Caen. Others were in the study hall, passing the time by playing chess, cards, and girls' games. I was taking some shots at the basketball hoop, while others got bored. I found my friends in the study hall, however, because of the loud noise that was going to become louder and louder, I quickly climbed a tree in the nearby chapel playground. I was afraid of being hit by stray German anti-aircraft fire. "Without doubt, these rounds of fire did not hesitate to respond to the eventual allied attacks on the railway convoys that unfortunately passed quite near at that moment!.."

And then it was madness!... A booming explosion!... The doors and windows shattered!... Immediately following, in the dust, we could see only less than a meter in distance!... I hit the ground…then…as the smelly dust and pungent taste in the air slowly dissipated…what a spectacle of ruins! Some were crying out…moaning and wailing. I quite well recognized the voice of Daniel Bompain… I located him by sound, trampling over some blocks from the collapsed public building. I was sure that I was over him…but I could not see him through this labyrinth of fallen material. I said to him "help is going to arrive, and we are going to get you out, hang on Daniel!.." In turning, I saw a hand moving, trying to get a hold of something. I went and held the hand to give him a sign that he wasn't alone, and to give him the encouragement to break free of the rubble. I began to remove the rubble. It was long and laborious. Ah! There was the sleeve of his vest. But, it was Joseph Magonete, an older student in the class of philosophy. I repeated my eagerness to help, with the impression that no progress was being made. But for God's sake, where was the head? Joseph's hand fell back down into the hole that I had made, and began trembling. One of my friends called to me to help him lift a large stone. It sounded as if the voice was beneath something. I ran there. In just a bit of time, thanks to our combined efforts, we uncovered the head of Pere Ciron, the professor of Sainte-Marie. He lives! I returned to Joseph, not knowing if he still lived. I relentlessly tried to free him without success. Cries of terror came out of the damaged house located on the other side of the recreational courtyard…I rushed…and asked the dust covered elderly lady, that I found perched on an enormous barrel, to have the goodwill to wait for help, as there was something more urgent at hand. I returned to work for Joseph's release. Forget (a name, pronounced for-jay), an important comrade, was busy bustling about next to me, to try and free from the rubble his friend Yves Desnee with whom he had been playing chess just a short time ago.

Help finally arrived. Actually, the group of helpers came quickly to our location, but the wait seemed like a long time. Following, we were asked to leave so that they could do their work.

I'm 16 years old, and one of many teenaged student survivors of this small school. I decided to gather my friends, and discuss this matter at length: "We cannot return to the school of which the Germans chased us from this morning, so we are all going to my mother's home in Balleroy", a village 35 kilometers to the west of Caen.

Our small group, of which one had not decided to jump into this wild escapade…: "We cannot delay en route if we want to reach a place of safe refuge before fighting breaks out ". We, on Bayeux Road, met one of our professors, Father Rene Letourmy, who was worried about us being without an adult chaperone. We informed him of the tragedy that happened at the school, and that we were the survivors, as well as our plans! "Good friends, he said, follow me!". He then had us get in some trenches dug into a garden, which was an adjacent war addition to an institution called Saint Joseph. "I will return in less than an hour!". And getting on his bicycle, he departed.

Held back by having been disciplined (some less than others), we slumped ourselves down in the trenches, scattered about, in the extremely uncomfortable bottoms of the trenches... Pere Letourmy is taking his time! We got out of the trenches to stretch our legs a bit, under a sunny sky. What a beautiful spring day! Just five meters from here, a plane did a low level pass, and dropped its two bombs, one from each wing. After the explosion, the railway that allowed a small train to connect Caen with the sea, was unusable.

During this time of waiting, I took the opportunity to make a point: "No! We were not near a railway line when we were bombed. We were almost a kilometer away! But this time they (the professors and those responsible) insisted that we approach!!.."

Father Remi Letourmy returned. "We spend the night here, and the next day we will decide" he said. He brought us food.

Neighbors joined in the trenches. Next to me was a grandmother and her grandson of around 5 years old. The intrigued kid asked a lot of questions until it tired him out. I had the impression that they were going to die soon.

"Death! Death was prowling nearby, it seemed to me - death so close that it could be touched. However, God couldn't you find me worthy of being accepted into heaven? I had, on my conscience, an acceptable way to correct the thoughts and actions that I considered moderately sinful and unforgivable (or maybe lethal), since I much prefer to please the Lord. I must repent through confession with a priest and may he pardon me of my sins in the name of God, in order that I can give myself the best possible chance of going to heaven and receive eternal life."
My spiritual advisor, he that had been training me, was Father Louvet, who was not with the group of Catholic professors that had joined us. I did not want to go through the repentance process with Father Letourmy, as I was losing confidence in him. There was Father Bigard, the English professor that I liked quite well, and who liked me, and with whom I was a good student. But, after my confession, what would he think of me? I hesitated for a longtime…a very longtime…what seemed like an eternity…then, between my eternal hopes and the hope of preserving my reputation, in the context that we found ourselves in, I could no longer, even though my physical form was resisting, only prefer heaven…and Father Bigard, in the name of God, gave me absolution. I am relieved!

Hmmm! Machinegun fire? Sounded like it was coming from the Saint-Gabriel Cemetery. Were there some Allied Scouts near to us? The rhythm of these volleys became less frequent, and then it was like the absence of war, during which time I thought about the events of the past 24 hours.

During the afternoon of June 6th, we had to create a geographical composition of which the questions were, for the most part, on geography. I am a very good student in history and geography, but I had absolutely not prepared this assignment, having thought that it would not take place. Also, on the evening of June 5th, Father Beziers, the professor of history and geography, came to me and gave me a small package from my mother. I was not comfortable enough with his action to thank him. This package contained a large cream - butter cake - 15 centimeters tall. I hastened quickly to hide this cake in my student's desk. Father Beziers returned to Balleroy where he presided over religious ceremonies, and also brought me good news of my mother.

This June 6th morning, we were all awakened earlier than usual by strange vibrations that shook the environment. This continued and seemed to originate from the coast. In the wink of an eye, we were diving for cover, and some of our landscape was leveled to the ground. The bed was made, our clothes were folded and all our belongings were in order, and we were prepared for anything that might happen. Contrary to the normal habit of doing this in silence, we all gathered at the 3rd story window to try and see some likely visual signs that might make it clear to us as to what direction these vibrations in the ground were coming from. Now and then I would leave my friends to selfishly serve myself a slice of Moka that I moved the previous evening to the dormitory (that which mother had sent me), that I was keeping in the bottom of my cupboard. The dormitory supervisor, who had departed to seek news (since he was gone, we were able to talk), ran into the dormitory and said to us: "The Allies are making an attempt to land on the beaches!" "Where?" we asked him. "I don't know!.." And then the head schoolmaster was before us saying "The Germans are asking us to leave this little school. They want us to move to a protected place…we go to seek refuge at the Sainte-Marie School, in downtown Caen, where we will be safe, for the Allies, who come to liberate us, don't bomb the civilians. After breakfast, each of us were required to take what we deemed necessary of our belongings, carry it personally, and departed, for we had to leave that place before midday." Father Gouhier, who had slightly less the look of a senator in comparison with Father Beziers, turned, and we fell in behind him going towards the cafeteria.

During a sleepless night of anxiety and worry, the tragedy that had occurred at the beginning of the afternoon continued to haunt me, "Maybe the rescuers were able to save Joseph Magonete, Daniel Bompain, and Yves Desnee? Maybe they were freed with other survivors from the pile of rubble? I don't recall who else, and how many we were in this place of sinister memories…as I was concerned with the saving of my three comrades." I felt guilty. "We wouldn't have had to leave the place when the rescuers asked us to. We could have helped them! One must not abandon their friends."

Albert Lefevre     (March 17, 2004)

Translation from French by Thad J. Russell