Our excursion took us for dinner in Ste. Mère Église, just inland from the beach. We sat outside at a table on the square, with a view of this:
|Image via La Wik|
As someone who grew up in the '60s, I knew the story of the paratrooper who landed on the church bell tower, but I had no idea how that had turned out. Had he survived the experience? Did he survive the war?
I mentioned to our (very young) waitress that it's not every day you see someone in full combat gear hanging from a church. She brightened up and we had a chat about all the American veterans who came to the town each year. I asked about the paratrooper, and if he had lived. Bien sur, she replied. Comes back each year to visit.
Alas, that was only partly true. The paratrooper John Steele did survive the town and the war, but died from cancer in 1969 just short of the 25th anniversary of the invasion. I was misinformed.
But the town and the area is worth the journey. And they like Americans there, or at least they did back then. It's peaceful, and a long time removed from the day that the telegrams started coming in Bedford, Virginia:
On the morning of July 17, a 21-year-old telegraph operator named Elizabeth Teass went to work as usual. The telegraph office was located in Green's Drug Store. She switched on her machine, pressed a key that rang a bell in the hub office at Roanoake, and typed a "Good morning" message.Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Amen.
Back came a message from Roanoake, "We have casualties," and then the machine started printing a telegram. A sequence number, a name and address, and then the sinister words THE SECRETARY OF WAR REGRETS TO INFORM YOU.
Elizabeth had received casualty telegrams before. But this time, when the telegram ended, the machine did not stop. Another message header and then again THE SECRETARY OF WAR REGRETS TO INFORM YOU.
As the teleprinter clacked out telegram after telegram, she sat there in increasing horror, taking the narrow strips that emerged from the machine and glueing them to the message forms.