Related topics

Bovine Buddies: GIs Recall How Normandy Cows Helped Win The War

June 8, 1994

ST. PIERRE DU MONT, France (AP) _ At ease, cows of Normandy.

You may now chew your cud and browse contentedly among the surviving hedgerows without having milky ways of flashbulbs and firing squads of camcorders aimed at your luminous dark eyes.

Most of the thousands of veterans who returned to your cliff-top pastures this week after liberating them 50 years ago are on the way home. But they’ll never forget you.

″Oh, how we loved these cows,″ enthused Sandy Conti of New York, framing a herd of brown-spotted cows in his camera against the background of the muddy meadow where, as a D-Day engineer, he helped bulldoze the first U.S. airstrip on French soil.

″If you saw cows in a field, it meant there here were no mines, so you could dig your foxhole,″ said Conti. ″If snipers were lurking, the cows always faced their direction, hoping someone had come to milk them.″

During the Nazi occupation, almost all the local inhabitants had been removed by the Germans from the scattered settlements behind the beaches.

But French farmers were allowed to come in and tend their herds because milk production was considered as essential as gasoline to keep the Fuhrer’s forces rolling.

″We were grateful for that milk, too,″ said Conti, leaning on a barnyard gate made from the steel mesh unrolled a half-century ago to build that first runway.

″The cows would come mooing around our foxholes for someone to milk them,″ he said. ″There were always a couple of farm boys in the outfit who would oblige.″

Well, not always. Touring the Normandy battlefields less than a week after D-Day, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came across a pair of city slicker GIs cautiously studying the bulging components of one of Normandy’s finest.

″Sir,″ they griped, ″we can’t get this damn thing to work.″

Summoning up boyhood skills practiced twice a day on the family farm in Abilene, Kan., the Supreme Allied Commander pulled up a helmet as a milking stool and rendered the grateful ruminant operational.

At happy-hour reunions over a glass of Calvados in sidewalk cafes, former fighter pilots and paratroopers outdid one another with memories of ″ultra- soft landings″ in green pastures that were NOT very sweet smelling.

But Arnold Franco, 72, a New York insurance broker who was an Air Corps signalman and code buster during the invasion, saw the Normandy cow that came closest to jumping over the moon.

″Our jeep got caught in a traffic jam coming into Avranches during the breakout,″ Franco said, milking the story for all its worth.

″MPs were detouring all vehicles around a crater in the road big enough to swallow a tank, probably dug out by a shell from one of those big navy guns,″ Franco went on.

″I looked up into a tree on the left side of the road and saw this black- and-white cow about 30 feet up in the branches.

″It was dead, but it was perfectly balanced with feet spread apart on the limbs, as if grazing contentedly.″

Update hourly