U.S. Soldiers Honored in French Town
PERIERS, France (AP) _ World War II veterans and their families honored the U.S. 90th Infantry Division on Sunday, commemorating a monument to the more than 1,000 men it lost in bloody battles to liberate this Normandy town.
Aging veterans saluted as a U.S. Army cloth was lifted from ``the four brave″ _ a life-sized bronze statue of four young Americans killed near Periers before Hitler’s army was driven out of the town on July 27, 1944.
Relatives, some of whom knew the four soldiers only from black-and-white photos, stood weeping as they took video of the unveiling.
``I never knew my father. I’ve only seen pictures of him,″ said Ann S. Giese, 55, of Oahu, Hawaii, who was born six months after her father, Sergeant Andrew Speese, died. She laid a wreath around the neck of the statue modeled after her father. ``It’s a very good likeness, I think.″
In another war-era ceremony, Britain’s Prince Charles joined aging veterans to mark the 60th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation _ the stunning operation to whisk some 338,000 Allied soldiers under German seige across the English channel to safety.
But the ceremony will be the last, since the Dunkirk Veterans Association is going to disband after losing more men to old age.
An 81-year-old veteran, Walter Darvill, of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, collapsed and died at Sunday’s ceremony at Dunkirk, police said.
In Periers, the monument was unveiled on a grassy plot in front of the town hall. It depicts Virgil Tangborn, a medic from Bemidji, Minn., helping the wounded Speese, of Philadelphia. Watching over them is soldier Richard Richtman, of Minneapolis, as Sergeant Tullio Micaloni, of Oneida, Penn., gestures for his tank crew to roll forward.
The four represent the approximately 1,140 soldiers from the 90th Division who died in the assault to push German troops from the area around Periers. Before the town was liberated it was bombed to ruins.
Periers sat in the middle of the German supply road and also provided Hitler’s army with an escape route to the northern port of Cherbourg, some 40 miles north.
``These men gave so much to us,″ said Henri Levaufre, 70, a lifelong resident of Periers, a town of 2,600, and president of a French-American group named after the 90th Division that raised $50,000 to fund the monument’s construction. ``Whatever I can do in return is nothing compared to what they did.″
``This is a memorial to every soldier who has taken up arms against tyranny,″ said U.S. Gen. David Bockel, commander of the 90th Regional Support Command, based in Arkansas.
On Sunday, a U.S. Army marching band led some 50 veterans and family members through the town streets following a Mass in the town’s vaulted 13th century stone church, rebuilt after Allied bombings that reduced it to rubble.
Some 600 people gathered outside the church for the monument’s unveiling, part of a three-day ceremony ahead of the 56th D-Day anniversary.
Four years before the 1944 D-Day landing at Normandy, Allied troops had been beaten back by German forces and were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk. That prompted an impromptu armada of minesweepers, destroyers, fishing vessels and tugs that ferried the 338,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers across the Channel.
On Sunday, about 800 former soldiers, some in wheelchairs, others holding flags high, lined Dunkirk’s town square as Prince Charles spoke about the stunning evacuation, which brought hope amid defeat.
``This miracle, which permitted the United Kingdom to fight on, was a magnificent piece of improvisation supported by countless acts of individual courage by British and French soldiers,″ the prince told the crowd.
The defeat at Dunkirk had been shattering. But Operation Dynamo, as the flotilla was called, offered light amid the darkness. The term ``Dunkirk spirit″ has come to mean persistence and hope in the toughest circumstances.
Many of the rescued soldiers went on to serve during other key battles.
``Without Dunkirk, there wouldn’t have been a D-Day,″ Prince Charles told the vets. ``We must recognize the evacuation of Dunkirk for what it was: a miracle.″
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