Survived the war?
A civilian's view
My name is Raymond Paris I was born January 17th 1924, in Saint-Lo France. I came to Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the area of my grandparents on my mother's side, in June 1931. Before I will relate to the historic days of June 5th and June 6th 1944 I would like to tell you a little bit about how the French endured the years of German occupation. For the majority of the French people these were 4 horrific years. You would have to have lived these years yourself in order to judge their harshness and their cruelty. From the start of the occupation the Germans, who found themselves in a rich land, confiscated everything. From the primary goods, produced goods and all foods. Food rationing was soon established. Food stamps were handed out to everyone giving you access to small rations of food tailored for your occupation or age.
During a whole month, we hid a resistance fighter from the Calvados area, wanted by the Germans, in our home. To rewards us he offered me a pair of rubber boots, something that was nowhere to be found in those days. I gladly accepted but there was a little catch to the gift. I had to go and collect them myself in a farm in Calvados, south of Lisieux. So I left on my bicycle for a 400 kilometer journey but once I had returned to Sainte-Mere-Eglise I was probably the only one in the country to own a pair of pre-war rubber boots!
We are June 5th 1944, 10:00 pm cause the church bells just ended chiming 10 times. I was lying on my bed completely dressed. The window was open and in Sainte-Mere-Eglise all is calm. I cannot sleep, reason for this was that on my small radio which the Germans had not found, I heard on the 8 o'clock news broadcast, a message for the O.C.M. our local resistance cell (Organization Civile et Militaire), that the Invasion was imminent.
So 10:00 pm had just passed when I heard someone calling my name outside. I leap up and approach the window. In the street two of my friends have come to get me for there is a fire at Julia Pommier's, an elderly lady who took care of the children of the village. He house is about 200 meters from my house across the street and I can see the flames battering out of her house. I call my father, one of the town's firemen, and we run out of the house to meet my friends. We ran to the hangar where the two fire pumps were stationed. We call out to a friend of mine to ask him to wake up the other fireman and to take care of getting the fire alarm started. Equipped with the two pumps, hoses and other firefighting materials, we run up the street leading up to the market place but had to stop our running due to the weight of the pumps.
We had just stopped to catch our breath, when suddenly a huge formation of planes roared over our heads. Impossible to count them there are so many. They are coming from the west and are flying extremely low about 250 to 300 meters from the ground. We did not hear them approach, the location of the line of the houses and the fact that the planes were flying at such low altitudes, assured that we did not hear the planes approach. The noise is deafening. We all have the same thought, a bomb raid, but fortunately no bomb explosions are heard. We noticed for the first time that the wings and the fuselage of the planes are decorated with white and black stripes. These "Invasion Stripes" were painted on the planes to facilitate the identification process.
The planes continue their route, while we get up and make our way to the burning house. Simultaneously about 30 Germans arrived at the house too. Not to help us but to watch and guard us. The majority of their troops and numerous artillery pieces where stationed at Fauville about 1, 5 kilometers from our town. We at Sainte-Mere-Eglise were "blessed" with this small detachment of German troops also from Fauville.
After about two minutes a new huge formation of planes flew over the town. The Germans started shooting at the planes with their machineguns. We noticed that all the doors of the planes are open. Suddenly from all these planes, we see men leaping from the open doors and parachutes opening immediately afterwards. I cannot help to shout: "It is the Invasion!" My God we had never felt such emotions running through our veins! I had never dreamed that our liberators would be coming from the sky! The paratroopers were falling everywhere around us. We see them pulling on their risers to soften their landing. The line of men coming out of the planes seemed infinite. Other parachutes have big bags attached to them. There are blue, green, yellow, orange and red ones. While the bags of the men are camouflaged.
Excitement all over. Civilians and Germans alike. The Germans start shooting their machineguns in every direction and the bullets are whistling over our heads. One paratrooper falls into the town well in between my two resistance friends, who help him get out of his harness. I am twelve meters from a German who had raised his machinegun ready to shoot them. Without thinking I lower his machinegun and tell him "Civilians! Civilians!" Luckily for them and me the German does not insist and lowers his machinegun.
A few seconds later I found myself and the entrance of the park where a paratrooper has landed in a tree above me and is hanging approximately 4 meters above the ground. The poor soul had no chance of doing very much to free himself as the Germans cut him down with their machineguns. Another paratrooper who landed in another tree just beside the now dead American paratrooper suffers the same fate as his friend. All other paratroopers I see coming down manage to escape their harnesses and the rain of German bullets and fade like magic into the surrounding gardens, behind walls, houses and other objects of cover.
With the sense of danger coming more and more obvious we left the fire and all hurry to return to their homes. My father, our neighbor Mr. Jules Lemenicier and I did the same. In the middle of our street about 20 meters from my home we came across a dead paratrooper. The man had dark skin. The three of us picked up his body and layed his him down on the side of the square and covered him with his parachute. My mother, who had been waiting for us with great anticipation, told us the paratrooper was killed by a "Todt". She had witnessed it all from the window of our house. We called the Germans who were in charge with the construction of the Atlantic Wall "Todt" because it was the name of their Division. With their uniforms being grayish pale we also called them "caca d'oie" (=goose poo) the regular Infantry was called "vert-de-gris" (=green of grey). We return to our house.
Everything settled down and a strange calm had fallen over the town. With numerous paratroopers still falling everywhere, the Germans quickly left town to rejoin the big Companies at Fauville. We are too excited to sleep so we join our neighbors the LeClerc's and the Philippe's in a small courtyard behind our house. Mrs Defost, the wife of the town baker also joins us. Her husband and her children remained at home at the other side of the street. We commented the extraordinary events that happened to us all night. We did not leave the courtyard for we were too scared to get shot. But I have to admit there was a strong desire to meet one of those angels of the sky.
Early next morning, before the rising of the sun, we saw another plane flying at very low altitude about 100 meters above the ground, whom we thought had been shot by the Germans. It was huge, and had its lights on and at the tip of the wings flashing lights was on too. But there was no engine sounds just the sound of the wind underneath the wings of the plane. It vanished into the night. At daybreak I was about to discover that this plane was a huge glider. What a new surprise! It had landed about 250 meters behind our backyard. I found out that the pilot was okay and that to my surprise the plane carried a car and an anti-tank gun.
The rest of the night passed without hearing a single rifle shot. At 04:00 am Mrs Dufost wants to see if her family has woken to start the daily baking routines. She takes the alley leading up to her house just to come back as quickly as she had left. She tells her there are a lot of soldiers in the street and on the square and they are not Germans. We thought as much! We all got up quickly and ran inside the house to the first floor and opened our windows. Indeed we saw a lot of soldiers taking the load off and resting. Another surprise for us was the fact that we did not hear these men as they walked, as opposed to the German with the big nails on the soles of their boots. The scent of fresh tobacco comes playing joyfully in our nostrils. The soldiers all make friendly gestures of friendship and we little hesitation we make our way down the stairs and into the street. To our surprise these men do not have dark skins but the camouflaged their faces in order to give them more cover in the night. Yet another big surprise as these men is not English but Americans as a stars and stripes flag on their sleeves suggests. What sensation to think that these men came all the way across the Atlantic and the English Channel to come and jump here in the middle of our Sainte-Mere-Eglise! Filled with excitement and happiness we try to talk to all of them. Alas none of us ever learned any English as the majority left school at the age of 12 to go and work. To our surprise we even used a few German words when trying to talk to the paratroopers, word which we picked up during the 4 year occupation.
I crossed the street and into the square, to see if the body of the dead paratrooper we found earlier was still there. The parachute was still there but the body we had placed underneath it was no longer there. Close by, on the doorway of three trucks left by the Germans a paratrooper is seated holding his right arm. Much to my surprise he calls me in perfect French to come over. As he sees my surprise, to hear him talk in my language, he informs me that he is from Louisiana. A lot of Norman people immigrate about two centuries ago to Canada and quite a few moved on to Louisiana. He wants to know what I am looking for and I tell him I was looking for the body of the paratrooper my father, my neighbor and I put under the parachute earlier. He starts laughing and informs me that that body was his; he played dead for he had received a bullet in the shoulder and did not want the Germans to put a bullet in his brain to finish him off. As he did not know if we were Germans he played dead and did not move until we had left him there under his parachute. Needless to say I was very happy to find him still alive and we talked for quite a while. He left and I have never seen him again.
When I walked home the two paratroopers in the park were still hanging there. I thought to myself what cruel irony that these brave men had found death at about 4 meters from the ground they had to land on. They would never feel the French soil under their feet.
We were too naive or optimistic to think that the war was over. The Germans reacted with at one hand artillery bombings coming from the north, west and especially the south, never equaled in duration and at the other hand continuous furious counter attacks coming from the south and north. Thanks to the extreme courage and heroic sacrifices of the men of the 505th PIR of the 82nd Airborne Division the Germans never regained there grip on Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
Copyright: D-Day, Normandy and Beyond
Remember each and every sacrifice, made for your freedom!