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
 

 

Suzanne Lesueur
Caen - Calvados

Suspecting that we would be without news for a while, my parents decided to go and visit our family the last weekend in may. So all four of us let Ste-Honorine des pertes on Saturday morning (by the train and by bike). We spent the night with dad's sister-we talked a lot about he D-day landing although everything seemed very quiet. Some German officers who were occupying a beautiful property nearby were horsing riding and jumping obstacles in a large filed just next to our aunt's garden: they seemed very happy and even tried to greet us as we passed. It seemed unnatural to us, and increased our hope that something important was soon to happen.
We left on Sunday morning and went via Littry to see Mum's brother---So we had done the rounds of the family. Once back in Caen we felt tired after the journeying. When we returned to Ste-Honorine in October '44 and learnt that they were freed on the evening of june 6th it hurt us a little in spite of everything.
On Sunday 4th June we were with our friends the Marmions in rue Guillaume the Conquérant. The youngest of their three children, Jacqueline, was having her first communion at St-Etienne. The eldest son who was a member of the emergency teams had been called to Lisieux with other first aiders. When he cam back home in the evening, we could sense he was very upset: Lisieux had had very heavy bombing.
We didn't feel too well on Monday 5th. Not that we could blame it on having had too much to eat, rather ona certain disquiet that had already possessed us for a while. The bombing were more frequent (twenty air raid warnings in the week before D-day and bombing in the demi-lune) The occupying army was more jumpy and the rumors that were circulating made us think that something was about to happen soon: the D-day we had been waiting for so eagerly was coming, and dad told us that the resistance was on alert. Of course he meant Mr Louis Renouf (who would be shoot on 6.6.44 at Caen prison) we talked a lot about this famous day we'd hoped for so long---we imagined we conjectured, we even planed out our withdrawal strategy: we had a few provisions : 5 or 6 bottles of cider from St-Julien cider factory in case the water supply was cut (we had thought of that), a litre of oil seed rape oil (that almost treasure trove) that I had brought back from the "maison du paysan" where I had recently been working, and a little sugar, flour, sardines, vitamin cakes….!!!
So with these provisions, we would live at the back of the house, leaving all the front part closed up---then when the main body of troops had gone by, we would open our house to welcome and congratulate the liberators. But our strategy would be shown to be naïve and derisory----
---That's the least one could say. We were so far from imagining what would really happen……

MY 6th JUNE 1944.

At 6.30am we had no windows left. As soon as we heard the siren we jumped out of bed. Just as my father and I arrived in the kitchen I only had time to notice the windows frames buckle and collapse violently and we both found each other again under the table. Shaken by a tremendous explosion I hardly understood what was happening. An enormous bomb had just fallen on the other side of the road virtually on my friend Raymonde's house. We were told that an English plane that had been hit by the DCA was throwing out its before crashing. The first bomb fell on a crossroads 50m from the house, but fortunately didn't explode! Fifty or so people were waiting the baker's (the shop was on the street corner) the second bomb hit my church, setting fire to the sacristy and killing two people. But later, I was to read in "Caen during the battle" that in fact it was an attempt to bomb a piece of artillery hidden in the 43rd barracks in Avenue Guyemer.
We just had time to recover from that when about 7.30 the demi-lune area was bombed again.
If I can put it that way, we were thus very quickly thrown into the mood of the moment. Around 10am German vehicles with loud hailers were going up and down the roads in town; the commander in Chief advised civilians not to go out of their houses. People's nerves took a beating.
What exactly happening? Was it really the landing?
With out neighbors we took it in turns to glean some information. Nothing ---no more TSF, so nothing. So we decided to have lunch---in case the bombing started again. But we were never to finish.
Towards 1.30PM the beginning of the end came for Caen. We quickly carried sevearly mattresses into the hall. That way we could lie down covered---and wait for the successive waves of planes.

Very frightened, Mrs Malherbe, my friend Raymonde and her brother came to join us with their mattresses under their arms. They feltsafer with my father who did indeed keep a very cool head towards 4.30Pm the bombings came one after the other, 6 planes at once as close to each as sardines in a tin. Dadstood at the front door and gave us a running commentary as the lanes arrived, guessing where they might land; this one's not for us, it's further left, it's for the station etc etc… we spent a frightful end of the afternoon---then we saw people arriving so covered in plaster, in dust, that it was impossible to recognise them. When we asked they replied that they came from demi-lune area. (Our former block of flats had been flattened and a small manor house where the Malhaire building was, was completely destroyed along with its owner, Mrs Filmont. You'll understand that we can't remember all the bombings. But we didn't know what was to come.
After all these goings on, Mum was very upset (she had fainted several times) her anxiety was made twice as bad by the fact that my brother found it very difficult to put up with the noise of the planes after the bombing of his school.---from which they all escaped alive. So we decided to leave and go away a bit nearer to the plain, to some neighbours (this man was a member of the passive corps) their kitchen was three steps lower down than the road. It seemed a little more reassuring.

There were a lot of us in that house (20 or so) and it was there we met Mrs salles with whom we would later leave in "exodus". We were all as afraid as each other. Would we see tomorrow? Rumours were already going around about the huge number of vixitms; so, as night fell everybody tried to protect themselves with their mattresses.
In fact that famous night was going to be frightful; it was no more and no less than the razing to the ground of the town. Waves of planes a hellish roundabout came other after the other to drop their bombs with a racket like the end of the world. The house was quite literally shaken to the foundations and we felt as if the ground was about to open up at any moment.
Dad was still trying to inform us as to what was coming: he found a corner outside and tried to understand their strategy; with every waves of bombers, the sky is first of all lit up by a reconnoitring rocket, he said: So he managed to work out whether the centre of the town or the surroundings was being aimed at. But sometimes he came in very quickly, and dived into his mattress, then everyone understood without words and curled up a bit further. Even so, several times I went out with him.
My breath was taken away---the sky was on fire, it was lit up by spectacular rockets worthy of the most magnificent firework display. To look at it was marvellous, but, alas, to live through it was terrible, the buzzing of the aeroplane motors followed by those roaring and explosions---and I wept, hoping against hope that their were no inhabitants left in the centre of Caen….(3.000 died this day in the centre).
The first glimmerings of day found us totally dazed, trembling and for some on the verge of complete breakdown. How long that night was and was a disaster. We just had one idea in our heads---run away, escape this nightmare. We couldn't stay.
We went back to our house very quickly and put together a few bits of luggage; in a few days time everything should be over: that was we really thought, because once we had arrived in the county of Orne, I realised that my complete wardrobe consisted of one blouse and skirt.

We met up with Mrs Salles and her two sons again. She had asked to my mother if she could follow us (since she no longer had her husband), saying that if it became necessary, she had family in Orne. My Mother replied that we were going towards Fleury/orne (nowadays fleury is in the suburb of Caen) where the inhabitants of Caen had been sent. We thought we could take refuge there until the arrival of the Allies.
As we went across the plain, we discovered that some inhabitants from the centre of the town who had been able to escape the collapse of their buildings had found refuge in the haystacks; all of them were occupied by people with haggard faces, worn out, almost unconscious and seeming to ask us "what am I doing here?"
We stayed in Fleury until 13thjune; after half a day we left the mushroom caves that were immediately occupied; then we were taken in at a farm where we slept and ate (using our own resources) in the barn with about then other people. One of them didn't know where her four year old daughter was. She lay prostrate all day long----that person's situation made a great impression on me. I didn't understand how that mother could be there without her child. I was to learn very quickly how such horrible situations could come about; it was just the beginning of a frightful epic.
We made several attempts (I always went with my father by bike while my mother looked after my brother) to go back to avenue Charlotte Corday to get some supplies and vegetables from the garden. The month of May had been very fine and the peas were early. But the navy was sending shells over onto our part of town and we had to abandon that too.
You'll no doubt remember (because I told you about it so often) how Mrs Salles fell in her first and last escapade; surprised by the firing of a shell, she fell and found herself in the ditch-in spite of the seriousness of the situation, we still laughed. But these rare moments. So she turned round and went back to Fleury while we tried to go home. The trip was very eventful that day and we had to dive to the ground several times!!!!
Always the two of us; we did manage to get back to the house 2 or 3 times, thenwe finally gave up as the shellings became too frequent and dangerous.
I worked for several days at the Mairie in Fleury, helping to count the refugees so as to give out the indispensable food rationing tickets.
A German DCA gun, hidden the town, did a lot damage, among other things a bomber that we saw fall like a dead leaf right close tour farm, after almost everyone inside had parachuted out. We had all fallen flat on our stomachs where we could, thinking that this monster was going to crush us. But no, the pilot (according to folk who were supposed to know) stayed at the controls and sheered his plane towards the plain. Ouf---some men tried to go and help but the plane was on fire and much too far away.
The bombings continued and then came the order for the refugees in the mushroom caves to evacuate them.
Very quickly my parents decided to leave at the head of the bunch; in fact more than then thousand people were thus thrown out onto the road---and they were only the first lot, many others were to follow.
On 13th june, at 9.30pm and with heavy hearts, we left the farm where we had taken refuge and abandoned Fleury for an unknown destination. We had to leave and move on - a single assembly point was given: TRUN in the county of Orne.
In the plain of Caen, it was an endless column of refugees that stretched out haphazardly; at one point we found ourselves surrounded by all the beggars of Caen, on the road to Fleury, Hubert Folie. Bit our last view of Caen was a town in flames. Unforgettable. The greatest pain in numb we say….In this circumstances, it was true---this long ribbon of refugees moved on deathly silence, taking with them the mental picture of a town glowing red, smoking against the background of dusk. I didn't yet know (Gone to the wind) having had chance to see it several times, since the burning of Atlanta (which was so well portrayed in the film) always makes me think of our leaving for this exodus (keeping things in perspective, of course ).
Where were we going? When could we come back? What would we find, and would we all come back?
Many were weeping……There were seven people in our little group; the four of us plus Mrs Salles and her two sons, Roland and Guy; but we only had six bicycles. That was a big handicap for number seven; myself.
First stage; we slept at Hubert-Folie among the hens and always in the straw. The next day, 14th, with fear in our hearts we stepped out again----and so we saw the places go by: Soliers, Bourguébus, Bellengreville, Poussy, St-Sylvain, where someone gave us a hard boiled egg and a glass of water (we even had to pay for a glass of water somewhere on the way).
Then Vendeuvre, Jort, Courcy…that evening the hay was very welcome even if a frightened rapt crept under our heads several times----a little screech, we turned over and we went to sleep again in spite of everything.
15th June, departure from Courcy for the sorting office at TRUN. We weren't vey well received (we went through in the first thousand and relief was not yet well organised) and Mum came out weeping; So we finally came to rst at St-Loyer des champs after 7pm on Thursday 15th. We reckoned we had done more than thrirty kilometres in these two days (with the detours, diving into the ditch etc). For me without a bicycle I didn't have the best of the trip. Dad was pulling along a little trailer with only treasures. I had to push at certain times but I only rarely had the chance to rest on the trailer, "the uphills seemed strangely more frequent than the downhills". We were very please with our prowess in spite of our ill-treated feet. We were relieved to be in a house again. However, seven extra people made the house quite crowed. More so because Mrs hardy's husband was a prisoner and she kept a small country café single handed.
All the farmers in the area were asked by their mayors to lodge the refugees. Mr Durand who knew Mrs Salles also knew about our unexpected arrival at Mrs hardy's home and he come to offer hospitality at his farm.
We stayed at Tercey, St-Loyer des champs until 18th June and then the next day we arrived in Marcei at the home of Mr and Mrs Durand who had three children: André, Raymonde and Paulette (an adorable little nine month old girl). This family welcomed us a real friends; marvellous people who opened their house wide for us.
We regained our spirits a bit and strength even more. A cow was slaughtered each week in this farm, as in all the others, to feed all the extra mouths. The refugees from round about, who were mainly flok from Démouville, (suburb of Caen), came to get their meat from the farm----and I kept the cash box in a case…..
We were not short of things to do; twelve people every day and extra sometimes. The boys: my brothers Roland, Guy, and André were happy. They were the delivery boys on bikes. As for me I helped with the housework and cooking and looking after the baby a lot…..
Towards the end of July, as the noise of battle came ever nearer, Mr Durand asked my parents to take me by bike into the forest of MONTMEREI to where a woodman had a radio There I took down the news from London in shorthand and when I got back wrote it our to distribute to a few people who would do likewise. I made this trip several times (it was about six kilometres to get there). For safety reasons my parents made me stop. No doubt they were right. After D-day, I learnt that This Mr Potier had been put here by the Resistance and that when I went he had an English pilot in his hut----my only regret was not to have a caught a glimpse of him.
Everyone was impatient to know about the advance of the Allies now we knew Caen had been completely liberated (9th and 17th June) Then as the noise of battle got nearer we began to see the comings and goings of German soldiers to the farm demanding food. Some very young soldiers (from the Chambois pocket) gave us the impression they had come to rest in the area around us; so it was fortunately for us we saw a tank of the infamous "das reich" just go past us---to do a lot of damage in a neighbouring commune. It's true that just seeing them go past sent shivers down our spines. We saw them go past again an hour later or two later. We ignored them.
Half an hour later a car "traction" stopped in the entrance. The door opened and someone waved Mr Durand went running down out, telling us that he know him Ouf they had a very brief conversation and Mr Durand came back very upset. It was a farmer from the neighbouring village who also had refugees with him. One of thee soldiers who had just gone by raped a young girl after killing her dog who was defending her. She was in a totally collapsed state the vehicle, with her fiancé. They were on the way to the doctor……

Among all the soldiers who asked us for food, one of them (the youngest of them was 15 I think), made my father peel potatoes at gunpoint (because my father had refused the first time he asked) For several days we were obliged to cook them potatoes, eggs, steaks, omelettes----We couldn't' refuse as the battlefront was getting nearer and nearer, ---and so also was our freedom; At the end of the afternoon and SS turned up--- a very proud -looking chap; like the others he demanded some potatoes and some meat. The lady of the house replied that we no longer had many potatoes (it was true). Then he lifted the Normandy style table napkin he had in his basket and we saw an enormous revolver. I had never seen anything like it, but I believe even bigger ones do exist. We didn't feel very safe---he explained to us that a German soldier had had his throat cut and that they had shot 18 hostages. We were to learn after that this happened at TOUROUVRE, but that the German soldier had quite simply been killed by a bursting shell. But the poor hostages were dead all the same. (according to a newspaper article I have in my possession, the youngest of them was just 14). Mrs Durand realised it was best to give him what he wanted and Mum came and whispered to me to go in the direction of the pond where I would find some.
I was happy to disappear and I ran off, but came to an abrupt halt more than surprised at the washhouse: two sentries with guns on their shoulders were quietly waiting there---the chap had come with reinforcements!!!
Seeing that I didn't quite know what to do, no doubt they tried to speak and I understood that a being blond with blue eyes I could be a girl from berlin!!!! I just had a few seconds to think of a reply and I told them in German!! "I'm from Normandy; I live in Caen and no longer have a home!!!". And then I turned my back on them…They seemed surprised, most of all at my tone and voice, I think. They tried again with some crass stupidities. Not getting any reply from me, they stopped trying to talk to me, but as for me, I just wanted the SS go away. When he came out his conquering air was even more exaggerated because his basket was full. As for me, I was very pleased I had snubbed them, even more so because it was the one and only time that I spoke German to some German soldiers!!!!
In these trouble days, an air battle was to make us tremble (at least three planes on each side, of which several fell near us) because we were so glad to begin to see the end of the occupation at last, we joined in this fight in our own way. However, the end could have been fatal for us: carried away by the joy of seeing the Allies' superiority, we had forgotten to protect ourselves; the last German fighter plane was fleeing very low down and it was only by a miracle that our farm was not scalped and us with it….we flattened ourselves against the wall of the house and if we hadn't been paralysed with fear we would have caught a glimpse of the pilot. What fear and what good luck again!!!
14th August the final end to the battle seemed very close; in fact the noise of the battle got louder and louder and came closer at great speed. At a certain point we even had to run into the shelter that had been prepared for the purpose in a field near the farm; as for me I only paid it a very short visit, preferring to lie down beside it and protect my head with a cushion!!!!then everything happened very quickly. Dad, who'd gone on ahead as a scout, came back with an American cigarette and brought us the good news; we had been freed!!! (the first tank arrived!!) We were delirious, we cried for joy, we laughed, we danced, we kissed each other, then suddenly we realised---we'refree, so we can go and see our liberators. We ran and ran; The Mayor of Marcei, who was also there for a great event, came and fetched me while I found myself next to the body of a German officer who had just been, killed The Mayor had me a kiss very tall, bearded American who in any other circumstances, would have been scared. He walked along,stopping as he went, beside a tank with his gun at the ready; his eyes swept the road from right to left, from left to right. For them it was still war. Since the enemy was hiding in the bushes, the soldiers were on their guard; they were going towards. They were going towards ARGENTAN which would prove difficult toliberate; the town would suffer much…
So it only took us a little while to realise that we were getting in the way of these soldiers; suddenly, there was a blast and I felt the air moving and something hot above my head; a bullet had whizzed past narrowly missing my hair and it left me helpless. I collapsed and my parents dived on top of me; it really scared them because they thought I was wounded.

We realised it would be better to wait until the next day to shown them our gratitude and we quickly went back to the farm. As for me, our joy didn't make me forget to thank God once again, because what had happened to us just proved to us once more that he was with us. We really were overjoyed to regain this freedom which was so precious after four years of humiliation, of privation of fear. It's impossible to forget these moments of really great emotion.

That evening we had no difficulty finding something to talk about and it was very later when allof us went up to bed, with lighthearts, to spend our first night as free people.
If I had been a boy, how proud I would have been to be a "Leclerc" soldier!!!
It wasn't until the next day-15th august ---that we would have a chance to talk to some French soldiers. What joy! On the way back from vespers at Montmerrei with a neighbour of the Durand family, I had that pleasure? When he asked me, I told that soldier about the emotion we'd felt during the ceremony; even though it was big, the church was full to overflowing but nine tenths of the congregation were French soldiers. For the communion, the priest had to cut the Eucharist in four.
What excitement!!! since he knew a family from CAen, The Leclerc soldier asked me to take news to them if I could on our return to Caen,----which I was very glad to do (letters in fine) An exchange of letters followed from that: it was a Breton who'd left Brittany to go to England aboard a fishing boat---so he had followed the whole campaign with the "Leclerc army". With my parents, we had often about these Leclerc soldiers, saying that we would like to meet at least one after the war. We had never dreamed it would be they would liberated us!!!!!!
That same day, 3 Germans (2 soldiers and an officer) were shot a little crossroads where we were speaking. They hadn't responded to the summons of the leclerc soldiers and had killed three of them…So our Leclerc soldier, who was a sergeant, asked us if we wanted to be present at the execution; my father said, yes but I said no. The noise of the shots was quite enough for me. We didn't yet know all the horrors that had been committed.
We stayed on for another two or three weeks, during which time we were to see a good number of American soldiers come regularly to the farm; there were sometimes as many as 15 round at the table. Several times, some of them share our meal. (it was one of these soldiers, who gave me my packet of cigarettes.). The nine month old baby was a joy to these soldiers, especially who had left children behind home. That's why Mr Durand took it upon himself to make them this cruel separation a bit by getting them to appreciate "Calvados". He must never have know how many litres he poured out for the refugees and the Allies…..

We left Marcei on 31st august. The whole Durand family was crying--- and so were we. They loaded us provisions, with sheets---and all their affection. In our memories, their name is linked to the joy of our liberation.
I don't need to spell out that the return was again carried out by bike!!! However at Argentan some Americans, who had no doubt noticed that our little group of cyclists were going along half on bikes, half on foot, very kindly offered us room in one on their huge lorries where all seen of us were able to fit in plus the six bikes. But as I well-deserved by then, I had the privilege of sitting in the cab!!!!.
We went through Argentan; we knew that taking this town had been difficult, but such utter devastation was difficult to take in. The lorry drove along very slowly to avoid the holes, going round and all the time; I didn't dare think what it might have been like for all these soldiers.: The corridor of death, Stalingrad in Normandy these headlines were perfectly justified. Everywhere, there ruins, bombs craters, burnt our trees, veritable skeletons stretching the remains of their branches towards the sky in a kind of deluded entreaty.
After any number of what had been villages, we came to the town of Falaise: William was still dominating all these ruins a little.

Suzanne Lesueur    (April 01, 2007)

No use of this testimony is allowed without the author's consent.