Sergeant York of WW 2

What a single soldier can accomplish. “Sergeant York” of WW 2 was a 101st AB paratrooper.

The low swampy ground west of Utah beach had been created by the Germans blocking rainfall drainage ditches over the four years of occupation. Only four slightly elevated roads crossed the swamp land thus creating a mobility impedance to the invading 4th Division. At dawn on June 6th paratroopers,who,had dropped hours before, seized the west end of the four beach exit roads to facilitate speed and restrict movement by the enemy. On the hill at the west end of exit 4 was the village of St Martin de Varreville which contained four large gun batteries, under concrete, aimed at the waters off the beach. The RAF had partially bombed them out of existence in May and June but still the 150 man gun crews remained billeted in 10 clustered chateau/homesites/barns in the Mesieres community a few hundred yards away. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Cassidy gave Staff Sergeant Harrison Summers the mission to take the buildings, eliminate the occupiers and open the road to Ste Mere Eglise. For five hours Summers, sometimes alone other times accompanied by one or two soldiers, who became casualties quickly, finally cleared out the last resistors having killed or captured 150 Germans. He said “kicking in doors and spraying lead was my mission”. In the largest building 15 were eating breakfast unaware of the chaos outside. “They never left the table”. 50 were rounded up escaping through a back door.

Summers was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He died in 1980’s as the “Sergeant York of WW 2”. Today the all the buildings are intact except for bullet holes. The gun bunkers that were never operated are patched farm storage shields. LTC Cassidy’s HQ building is occupied by a young family oblivious of the buildings history. To walk amidst the buildings fingering the bullet holes and spranged walls is nostalgia personified. One wooden door had a line of bullet holes for which the farmer was given $20 as reparations. He putied the holes and bought a few more chickens. Eventually the putty dried and the bullet holes reappeared.

A Normandy Tour

As Americans and Canadians we, in North America, view Normandy in terms of the past hundred years when World War 2 demanded our attention for six long hostile years.

A Normandy Tour must also encompass our past history to 1066 when “William the bastard” left his fortified castles in Falaise and Caen to depart the Norman beaches, cross the Channel and invade England, successfully, through Hastings and the nearby village of Battle. From his Norman flag he transferred one of the three  golden lions to the English flag. When Winston Churchill, in 1939, had the British lion roar at Hitler’s invading forces it undoubtedly was in French and English.

A tour of Normandy encompasses the architecture of the Roman and Gothic periods when the tall cathedrals speared the clouds. Stain glassed windows and flying buttresses mirror themselves in both countries. The thick foundations and walls engineeringly designed to carry the tall weighty ceilings. towers and spires for the most part with stood the ravages of two world wars. The villages  and towns share a common design in the community churches with their stone walls and square belfry towers. Our paratroops prayed the evening before dropping into villages such as St Mere Eglise and Ranvtille. The footprint of the English churches they left duplicated those they entered in battle. On the grounds of the 8th Air Force Museum, in Savannah, is a replicated English village church as used by our bomber crews before and after flights. The Gothic fingerprint of Normandy, now in Georgia, is most apparent.

Should a Normandy Tour encompass its southwestern corner include Mont St Michel. An island a mile off shore accessible by an elevated tide free roadway topped by a magnificent cathedral  shrine of the past. A walled fortified village interconnected by a mile long narrow spiraling street commenced in 899 AD. It looms like the Rock of Gibraltar or the Dover castle as sentinels of the seaways.

A Normandy Tour will also lead you through hedge rowed farms and orchards of considerable economic strength. Tudor and Elizabethan houses in England are here called Normanesque. Animal husbandry, grain, fishing and diary products “bring home the bacon” one might say.

On June 6th, 1944 there were 20,000 French civilian casualties. A like number of Allied men and women. Those who died but were not interned back home now rest in two American, two Canadian, one Polish and 17 British Cemeteries. Many of our wounded returned to hospitals in England and later died remain in England.