Dear 508 Veterans,
or Friends of the 508th
Normandy: D-Day Revisited
Some of my most memorable times in Normandy have occurred in the wee hours of June 6. Prior to our first trip to Normandy five years ago, I had thought one way I wanted to honor and remember the men who jumped into the darkness in June 1944 was to go outside somewhere close to where my uncle must have landed on D-Day at exactly the time he was to have dropped.
When we explained our plans to our friends and hosts, Michel and Philippe Queffelec, they enthusiastically said they would take us. But where were we to go? After a short discussion, we decided it would be appropriate to go to the stone bridge over the Merderet River at La Fiere, which is just a few kilometers west of Sainte Mere Eglise.
So, around 1 a.m. on June 6, 1999, we piled into Michel’s Renault Clio with our rubber boots on, bound for the bridge. It was cool and the air was misty.
Being the particular person I am, I wanted to make sure we were at the bridge at the exact same time as my uncle’s stick jumped. I had read a manifest stating they were to plunge into the Norman air at exactly 0214 hours. But I knew that was based upon double daylight saving time that was in force in Britain at that time. So, since the French in ‘99 were on (single) daylight time, I figured 0114 hours local time would equal the correct solar time. (I like to be precise!)
Shortly after we got out of Michel’s car into the dark night onto the bridge, Michel placed a small, red candle onto the headwall directly over the river, lit it, and pulled a small, delicate, red rose out of his jacket. Handing it to my wife, Maggie, he said, “This is to cast." Maggie, not understanding, whispered, “To cast?” Michel continued, “to cast into the Merderet River in memory of Capt. Nation.”
Maggie and I felt our throats tighten, and Maggie dropped the rose into the water below.
Later that night, after having returned to our “home” on Hill 30, we had great difficulty going to sleep. We both knew we had just experienced moments that would remain with us as long as we lived.
Our venture this June 6th was not as emotional and memorable as the one five years ago, but it had its moments.
This time we stayed with our friends in La Fiere, Dominique and Jil Launay, and walked from their home north of the causeway to the bridge.
We did not have a flashlight, so we felt our way along the road in darkness, much as 508ers did sixty years before us, which gave us an approximation for what they must have experienced. Still, we had no one shooting at us, nor did we have the fear of that happening, which was just fine with us.
Normandy is a place I have heard about nearly my entire life, and now it (and its people) have a special place reserved in my heart. God bless all those Red Devils who jumped into the darkness of June 6, ‘44, especially those who were killed, wounded, and captured during the operation.
508 PIR Association 30th Annual Reunion
Time is running out to register for the 508 PIR Association’s 30th annual (and final) Reunion, which is to be held Sunday, October 17th through Thursday, October 21st, 2004 in Gainesville, Florida. There are now well over 500 people registered for this event.
The reunion will be held at the Paramount Hotel, 2900 SW 13th St., Gainesville, Florida 32608.
The retirement ceremony will be held on Tuesday, October 19th at Camp Blanding, and it will be hosted by the staff of Camp Blanding.
For more information about the 30th Annual Reunion and Retirement Ceremony, Contact Ernie Lamson, 508 PIR Association Treasurer, at (651) 699-7366.
A Texan who loves Normandy and its people,
Bill C. Nation
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