Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Monday, July 07, 2003

A French Villiage that celebrates the 4th of July, following an incident in WWII.

Leathery farm people here who were children in 1943 say they will never forget America's Independence Day that year because it was the day that a Missourian named David Butcher, tail gunner on a B-17 bomber, fell into a field just outside their village.

It was around noon, and most people were in church. Without knowing what shook the rafters and rattled the diamond-paned glass, worshippers heard the death throes of a Flying Fortress, 384th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force, as it took German fire.

The plane was part of a squadron sent to destroy Nazi munitions plants in and around Le Mans, the nearest big city, about two hours' drive southwest of Paris. The villagers did not witness its spirals from 28,000 feet, its nosedive and rupture, the fireball of its crash.

They did not see Butcher, unconscious, drop like a stone from the severed tail, and so were spared from wondering why he was so close to the ground before he finally opened his parachute.

Later they told German search parties that they did not know of any survivors. But the Germans knew that B-17s always carried 10 airmen, and they found only nine bodies.

Fortunately for Butcher, the first villagers he approached after landing were members of the French Resistance. After eight months' clandestine stay in a dozen Resistance houses, the sergeant, 25, hiked across the Pyrenees to Spain and safety. But he says he still has a hard time understanding exactly what happened that first day.

The motto of those here who endured the Nazi occupation and celebrated the Allied victory in 1945 is "We will never forget." Such feelings were evident on Friday in the solemn bearing of the regional officials, military officers and Poilleens who gathered at the Monument Americain, erected two years after the war to commemorate the miracle of the sergeant's survival and the tragedy of other lives ruined or lost.

The monument, its low fencing decorated with metal plane parts newly repainted in silver, sits near the crash site. It was built by Alfred and Renee Auduc, both of whom were tortured and interned for helping Butcher.

Their son Jean-Jacques, who was 12 when his parents were taken to concentration camps, was one of many highly decorated members of the Association of Franco-American Veterans who attended the ceremonies on Friday. Each, wearing white gloves, bore a flag as the orchestra played the anthem of the Resistance, "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "La Marseillaise."

"He taught us a lot about the guns that were parachuted in for us," Auduc told French television of Butcher. Auduc also recalled how he helped the Resistance help the sergeant by carrying messages across the countryside in the handlebars of his bicycle.

Every year the village honors the Fourth of July. In 1984 the Resistance alumni serendipitously reconnected with their former protege through a French exchange student who visited a Butcher family member in Seattle. The villagers paid his air fare and, said Butcher, a retired carpenter, "you never saw such a celebration in your whole life."

Butcher, who spoke in telephone interviews, was too frail to leave St. Louis for the ceremony on Friday and the ensuing "vin d'honneur" in the village hall, but would have found the celebration just as memorable, if bittersweet.

< email | 7/07/2003 03:12:00 PM | link

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