VILLERS-BOCAGE

Villers-Bocage is a small Normandy town that was leveled as the Allies battled the Germans for control of France. Only one house from before the war still stands. Otherwise the town has been completely rebuilt. This is a photo from 1944 after the "Battle of Villers-Bocage." A mystery persists to this day: since the town was in the middle of a British Sector (off-limits to American soldiers and aircraft), why did my father's flight engage the enemy here? Doubtless in the confusion of combat such niceties are often not observed.

My father's P-47 went down a little way out of town. The town council decided to put their memorial to him about thirty yards from where his plane actually fell, because there, by the side of the country road, is a small shrine with a statue of the "Vierge Noire" (Black Virgin) that was erected in the 1930's. This photo shows the sight that greeted us as we drove up Sunday morning, June 7, 1999, the 55th anniversary of D-Day - the French and American colors flying beside the Black Virgin on her pedestal, a color guard of French veterans, and a stone draped in an American flag. Our friends and family were there, as well as a few dozen French people and a couple of French reporters.

The ceremony immediately got under way. Here I am with the mayor of Villers-Bocage, who welcomed us, presented me with a small plaque, and introduced our friend Remy Chuinard. (Remy, it turned out, had engineered the entire ceremony. More about him later.) Remy gave a moving speech, first in French, then in English, followed by me reading some excerpts from my father's letters translated into French. By this time there was not a dry eye anywhere.

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