Heroes of 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment honored for paying the ultimate price
June 10, 2014
CHEF DU PONT, France -- Seventy years after American Soldiers of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment dropped from the sky to liberate Chef Du Pont during the World War II invasion of Normandy, a handful of veterans returned to join residents, U.S. service members and others for a ceremony in honor of those who fought here.
The June 5 ceremony honoring the 82nd Airborne Division unit was one of more than 30 events across the region commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day assault by Allied forces in 1944. At the invitation of the French government and coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Task Force Normandy, led by U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade, orchestrated the participation of 650 U.S. troops and 20 units and from six nations, in those events.
USAREUR Commander Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. and Chef du Pont Mayor Marcel Jean spoke about the 508th and the heroic actions and risks taken by its paratroopers to push out enemy occupation.
Jumping from U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft, the paratroopers landed near the Merderet River, liberated the village and took control of a nearby bridge held by occupying German forces.
"It is truly awe-inspiring to think what it must have been like on June 6, 1944, when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent," Campbell said. "For four long years, much of Europe had been under captivity; millions cried out for liberation. The effort began in Normandy, where the Allies stood and fought in a giant undertaking that was the beginning of the long hard road that would ultimately end the war in Europe."
During the ceremony a handful of World War II veterans sat quietly in the front row, listening to the general and the mayor talk about the sacrifices made by their comrades who should have been sitting there with them.
"The second world war serves as a stark reminder of the brutality and evil mankind is capable of inflicting upon anything," Campbell said. "Many of our best and brightest hurled themselves into battle to face down a ruthless enemy, some never to return home again."
Following the remarks the leaders placed a wreath on each of three standing stones representing the units and Soldiers who played a role in the battle that unfolded not far from where more than 200 people watched the ceremony. As the ceremony ended with a bugler playing 'Taps,' the audience stood and Soldiers and veterans raised their hands to salute those lost in battle.
U.S., French and German Soldiers and participants from across the globe were among those in the multinational audience. Some, like Celia Loreau, went to great lengths to honor those who came here to fight on D-Day.
Loreau, a quality manager in a processing plant in her hometown of Nantes, France, attended the ceremony in an original World War II U.S. Women's Army Corps uniform.
"I found the jacket in a military museum in Carentan, but afterward I had to find the other parts myself," she said. "I wanted to find the woman who wore this before, but there is no name. But I would like to find her one day."
For Loreau the battles here seven decades ago loom close to home. Her grandmother was an eyewitness to the destruction of her homeland as she watched bombs dropping over France. She would later tell her granddaughter about the bombing and other events she witnessed, sparking young Celia's interest in history.
"Since I was very young I have always been interested in the history of France," Loreau said. "I like to understand what people have done here and the memory of the people."
At the ceremony Loreau was able to see a slice of that history up close. It was no further away than that front row of seats, where Karl Lindquist sat.
Lindquist, a paratrooper with the 508th during the D-Day campaign, came here to remember and salute his brothers-in-arms and to share his story. He found willing listeners in the 13 members of the the Courter family from Tennessee, who made Normandy one of the first stops on a 30-day tour of Europe.
Anthony Courter's large brood ranges from two years old to young adults in college. Anthony said the vision of the futures starts with understanding the past, so he hopes the monthlong trip will give life to what his home-schooled children are reading about in their history books.
"My philosophy is that if we cannot love the men who have already lived, then we will never love the men who are yet to be born," Courter said.