This post is the second in a series on my D-Day tour of Normandy, France. See the rest of the posts here.
We next headed to Angoville-au-Plain, a tiny Norman village home to a small and fairly nondescript church where 2 US Army Medics performed some serious acts of heroism that went unrecorded for decades.
Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore of the 101st Airborne saved the lives of 80 people, mostly American troops but also a some Germans and one French child. They did this with 2 months and 2 weeks of medical training, respectively – retrieving the wounded from the field using a wheelbarrow and performing first aid under a hail of gunfire. Two paratroopers died and were laid at the alter to pass in peace. One of them denied any further medical treatment since he knew he was going to die and didn’t want the limited supplies of morphine and bandages to be “wasted” on him.
The church still shows signs of the battle that raged around it with holes in the ceiling and cracked floor tiles from artillery and bloodstains on the pews from the injured who were treated there. The locals have left those signs intact purposefully.
The two men thought they did nothing special but the French citizens decided otherwise and erected a monument just outside of the church, which still holds services today. Upon his death, Robert Wright asked to be buried here and you can visit his grave in the churchyard.
This is a must-see if you’re in the area.
The Real-life Easy Company from Band of Brothers
We stopped in Carenton and Sainte Marie-du-Mont where the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division (aka, Easy Company) parachuted in to help support the beach landings. You can see there a monument to the men of Easy Company and another with a statue of Richard D. Winters, the commander of Easy Company. He only allowed his image to be used if the monument honored all military service members. He approved the design but sadly did not live long enough to see this memorial erected. The French and US flags fly over both monuments.
The plaque on the monument with Winters reads:
Wars do not make men great but they bring out the greatness in good men.
This site was portrayed in the book and movie The Longest Day in the iconic scenes where an American paratrooper’s chute is caught on the church spire as he and many of his fellow paratroopers land in the this town amidst hordes of German soldiers.
This is the church (you can see a fake paratrooper there on display as a re-enactment. The stained glass inside bears the insignia of American paratroopers and the city’s coat of arms also features parachutes.
Our guide told us a story about two paratroopers who got hung up in trees by their parachutes. One was cut down mercilessly by German gun fire – the fence in front of the tree is still there and you can see places where the bullets hit the fence. The other paratrooper, seeing the fate of his friend, quickly used his pen knife to cut the straps to his chute and escaped to safety. There, he realized that in the burst of adrenaline, he cut through more than just his strap – he also cut off his own thumb.
You can also visit the Airborne Museum there, but sadly, we did not have time on our tour.
It’s really touching to see that even after so many years, all throughout the countryside, people still lay flowers at graves, markers, and monuments as you can see in the pics above and display flags outside their homes representing the countries who helped liberate France.