Entries from Jun 1994

American troops land on Normandy beaches during the historic D-Day, June 6, 1944.


The Boston Globe

June 7, 1994

By Mike Barnicle

ST. JAMES, France – On a stunning, cloudless afternoon, when the green grass of the low, rolling hills flowed like a brilliant emerald wave in the soft breeze, a long ribbon of schoolchildren marched in procession to honor 4,410 American boys buried beneath 28 acres of French soil liberated with their blood 50 summers ago.

More than 4,000 boys and girls had been summoned from this agricultural region 12 miles from the Normandy coast and they all walked in silence, each carrying a white cardboard box containing a single white dove.

It was well before the pageantry involving world politicians began yesterday at places named Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach, and there were no famous people present to give speeches. Instead, farmers and office workers, housewives and schoolteachers, young French families and frail grandparents came by foot and by car from miles around to pray, stand or simply stare at the graves of so many assembled strangers whom they never knew, never met but never forgot.

In the blue sky above the startling cemetery, a lone French paratrooper dressed in the uniform of the 82nd Airborne drifted lazily down to the sacred ground below. As he landed, a little girl took his hand and led him toward the chapel at the edge of all the marble headstones where the two of them joined the mayor of St. James several local dignitaries and a few members of the French and American military as they saluted history’s fallen legions.

A band played the national anthems of both countries. Then the children, one by one, stood alongside all the stone monuments and placed a lovely, lonesome daisy on top of every grave. All was quiet as the children opened the boxes and momentarily held the doves in innocent hands before releasing them in unison, the white birds soaring off in squadron toward England and ports all these brave dead boys sailed from at the start of their last summer, 1944. from Massachusetts. And their names represent a unique cultural tapestry. In death they blend together, all of them beyond prejudice, envy or the resentments that often weigh us down today. A few of them were: Douglas Perry, Robert Cahill, Ralph Parenteau, Robert Lamb, Vartan Panagian, James Huard, Alfred Cloutier, Herman Lindsey Jr., William LeClair, Clifford Oliver Jr., Walter Potter, Carl Savlone, James Starr, Joseph Tuohey, William Walsh, Edgar Whittaker, Daniel Esposito, Lucien La Croix, George Nawn, Thomas Duffy, Stephen Jakstis, Frank Mello, Bronis Lipskis, Michael Halprin, Nathan Gurwitz, Edward Drakopolos, William Breed, Neil Manning, Francis X. Kelly and Earnest W. Prussman from West Newton who, on Sept. 8, 1944, won the Medal of Honor when he destroyed two German machine gun bunkers before being killed by enemy gunfire.

You wonder now, all these years later, what the dead might have done: Who among them would have been doctors saving lives, teachers strengthening young minds, laborers building roads and cities, homes and highways, farmers growing crops, salesmen, police, firefighters. You wonder about the children some of them left and the families they were denied. You wonder about the parents of the 20 sets of brothers buried here, side by side, and how anyone could ever handle such great eternal grief.

These are the heroes who all died young. They missed sunsets and baptisms. They went without 50 World Series and 50 New Year’s Eves. They never stood at the door, anxiously waiting for a daughter’s first date to arrive or witnessed their kids’ junior proms and college graduations. They never saw men landing on the moon or a fax machine. They were not allowed to walk on a beach with the girls they loved or hold the hands of grandchildren who would have asked about their great crusade.

In our increasingly selfish country where everything and nearly everyone is part of some special interest, where defining any enemy or current threat to live or moral values is as difficult as peering through the murky fog that envelops this French coast, it is stunning to realize that these 4,410 and millions of others sailed to certain danger with no thought of conquest or profit. They came because they were asked and because they were needed.

And today the French here do their best to remember. The local people, far from the glamour of Paris, live in an area of centuries-old villages where nearly everyone still depends on the land. These citizens are the French equivalent of our Midwesterners, open, honest and grateful for what they have been given.

For the past few weekends, they have come in droves to the American cemetery. While D-Day has become a television spectacle in the United States, these simple folks who manage to get by without 100 cable channels, CNN, MTV, microwaves and ATM machines on every block recall their history and those who helped them. Unlike so many of us at home, geography never insulated them from sacrifice.

Now, as the sun began to set, the people began to leave the cemetery in groups of twos and threes, quietly, with respect, the way you would leave a church or temple after prayer. And as they headed toward their cars and homes and their rural lives, the only sounds in the gathering dusk were the bark of a single dog, the crowing of a rooster somewhere in the distance and the rustle of the wind that provides these boys eternal companionship


US soldiers gather around trucks disembarking from landing crafts shortly after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches, June 6, 1944. 


The Boston Globe

June 5, 1994

By Mike Barnicle

STE. MERE-EGLISE, France – “Where is Robert Murphy?” the old trooper asked.

“He will be here soon,” the woman in the shop told him. “He comes all the time. He is like one of us. Wait, you’ll see.”

The man’s name was William Lundquist. He is 71 and he stood straight as a sentry in the raw drizzle yesterday at the end of a narrow alley between two homes directly across the village square from where American paratroopers of the 82d Airborne Division dropped from the sky just after midnight, June 6, 1944, to liberate first a town and, inevitably, a whole continent.

Lundquist, originally from Hartford, was with the airborne, but yesterday he stood beneath a street sign halfway up the cement wall that read: “Rue Robert Murphy.” The 100-yard length of pavement is named after Bob Murphy who, at 18 on that dark night half a century back, had come all the way from Boston to tumble out of the darkness and into the rescuing limbs of a huge, sprawling chestnut tree within the walled courtyard of Madame Angele Levrault’s backyard. She was the town teacher, and when Murphy hit the ground, Madame Levrault ran frightened from the outhouse that is still here, next to a basketball court where children clad in Nike sneakers and sweatshirts play.

Murphy is a 68-year-old Cape Cod lawyer. He is famous throughout this peaceful village. And Bill Lundquist, whose life after war took him all the way to California and decades of steady employment in the aircraft industry, had been waiting patiently to meet him. Both men and thousands of others – American, British, Canadian and French – were all over the Normandy coast yesterday, saying hello and saying goodbye. They had come to recall and reflect upon that great and awful moment when freedom was purchased at a huge cost on D-Day. All of them are old and somewhat gray now, some limp, some wrestle with the emotion of the moment as they stare at a remarkable scene through history’s wounded eyes. They are not here for any speeches or applause. They have, instead, come to stand on the stage one final time and take their generation’s last bow. For those who suffered, struggled and sacrificed here, the anniversary at Normandy is their curtain call.

“I was 19 years old,” Morley Piper remembered. “I was a platoon leader with Charlie Company, 3d Battalion, 29th Infantry Division. We landed on Omaha Beach and I still remember the noise and the light from the ship’s batteries behind us as we came in. It was something to see.”

Piper lives on the North Shore and is an executive with the New England Newspaper Association. He grew up in Canton, Ill., a place of 10,000 people where the bitter hand of the Depression still clung to the economy like a strangler’s claw when Piper enlisted in the United States Army.

“It was a different, a different country,” he pointed out. “As a matter of fact, when I signed up, so did my father. They were taking them as old as 40 and he joined right along with me. He served stateside. That’s the way it was.”

You would need the skills of archeology to find the lost land all those young boys left voluntarily to sail to their fate in battlefields like Normandy, Anzio, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, all in pursuit of an ideal called freedom. Then, they left a nation commonly known for opportunity. Today, we have been invaded with a false sense of entitlement – a shabby replacement for individual attainment – and litigation outweighs liberty.

But the generation that crawled on their stomachs through a shower of steel and shrapnel on these beaches, the boys who climbed a 10-story tall, straight-up cliff called Pointe du Hoc, all of it in the face of withering German gunfire, were not philosophers or politicians. They were simply Americans: Catholic, Jewish and Protestant; Greek, French, Irish, Italian and Polish. The sons of wealth as well as poverty, sons of doctors, engineers, poets, farmers and street sweepers, they came because they were called to a higher duty by their government.

“I left a life,” Leonard Weintraub was saying. “I was a lawyer in New York City. I had a life all worked out and all of a sudden I was a soldier.”

Weintraub, in his late 70s now, stood in the sun alongside Utah Beach where he came ashore at 9:30 in the morning on June 6, 1944, with the 9th Infantry. There was a souvenir shop 50 yards from where he stood, looking up and down the caramel-colored sand, whipped by a 30-mile-an-hour gale off the English Channel.

“There is nothing you could ever write that could describe what I saw and what took place here 50 years ago. The death, the destruction, the incredible desecration. It was enormous. Nothing would ever prepare you for a scene like that.

“I wasn’t supposed to be a soldier, yet here I was carrying a rifle, willing and ready to shoot people. I never wanted to kill anybody but I had to. That’s what we had to do and we did it.

“My parents were immigrants. They came to New York in 1903,” Weintraub said. “I remember the Depression with all its difficulties and I certainly remember the Army and fighting here on D-Day. Where we are standing right now,” he said, “they called it Liberty Road that morning because we came off the beach here. And if you asked if I think this generation could do what we did 50 years ago, the answer is no. No, I do not think they could – or would – because unfortunately the country has changed too much and so have we… . It is all kind of sad.”

Those who came – and those who stayed, in cemeteries and unmarked graves carved in the lush countryside – carried many of the same dreams young people lug today. However, the old soldiers were part of a remarkable, uncomplaining age of Americans, who bore the brunt of economic chaos and world disaster and responded heroically to both. There simply was no quit in them.

To them, this was a great crusade, a cause complete with symbols of good and evil. There were clearly stated objectives and a set of defined goals. And all of it was all so long ago that people unashamedly had respect and affection for their president, Franklin Roosevelt.

“My father was a doctor just like me,” Thomas Macdonnell, of Marshfield, Mo., was saying outside the stone cathedral in the square of Ste. Mere-Eglise where Bill Lundquist looked for Bob Murphy. “During the Depression, I chopped cotton for 75 cents a day. My dad charged $1 for house calls and 50 cents for office visits. He charged $15 for the delivery of a healthy baby.

“That was my world. It was small, simple and peaceful and it was filled with love despite the struggles. I joined the Army at 19 to help keep that world. My Army serial number is 17132441. A man never forgets something like that.

“I landed on Omaha Beach with the 1st Division at 07:15. My sergeant’s name was Charlie Jutkiewicz. He was from Massachusetts. It was a horrible, horrible scene out there.

“I can recall a boy next to me in the landing craft who was so convinced that he was going to die that he had all his hair cut off and he sent it home to his mother in an envelope along with a letter to Joliet, Ill., which was his home. We hit the beach and sure enough that boy got killed. I always felt badly that I did not know his name.”

Tom Macdonnell is a scrappy, wiry little man who walks with a trace of injuries suffered on Omaha and at The Bulge in December 1944. Today, he has eight children and “a backyard a mile long.”

“I would like to think my children, or their children, could and would do what we did here, but the answer is I don’t know. Nobody does. And God forbid we should ever be confronted with a situation where such action might be called for.

“I don’t want anybody to celebrate what took place here because an awful lot of people were killed. That’s one reason why I became a doctor. I had been involved in taking enough lives. I went home to save a few. But I think the world should remember. I think that’s important.”

Down the road from where old paratroopers gathered in Ste. Mere-Eglise, preparing to jump this afternoon in a recreation of their feat of 50 years ago, there is a dark graveyard at La Cambe where the remains of more than 5,000 German soldiers are buried beneath an umbrella of elms. Yesterday, a 72-year-old man from Berlin, Walter Scheel, stood, shoulders hunched, looking down at the grave of his brother Gunther, who died at 20 years of age on June 6, unsuccessfully defending Pointe du Hoc as Rangers scaled the cliffs.

“I was with a Panzer division near Paris,” Walter Scheel said. “It was three months before I found that my brother had been killed. It is all so sad, even all these years later.

“I feel awkward coming here, but I wanted to come. My brother and I were soldiers, not Nazis, and we were not much different from your soldiers. I can see that today. I have met many of them and they and I are not different. We are sad but happy to be alive.”

Inside the Cathedral of Ste. Mere-Eglise, Pierre Feuf, 82, played the organ donated by paratroopers who fought here. The old man remembers the strangers who came to save his country.

“They were a miracle from the sky,” he said. “We should never, ever forget.”

Above him, there was a stained-glass window, a mixture of reds, blues and yellows, assembled in the form of a winged crusader wearing an airborne patch, the phrase, “Ils Sont Revenus” stenciled in the panes, the phrase meaning, “They have come back.”

Outside the square was a blur of tourist buses, TV crews, concessionaires and gendarmes. And, always, there were the proud old men with their families and friends, returning to a spot where so many became forever young while the survivors defined an entire generation: They beat back a Depression, fought a world war on two global fronts, returned home, went to work, raised families, educated themselves through the GI Bill, purchased homes with VA mortgages, exploded into the suburbs, lived by the law, prayed and dreamed their children would be better off than they had been. It was the simple wish of a strong group.

Now, as a squadron of C-130s suddenly darkened the sky, William Lundquist, who earned $28 a month as a paratrooper in 1944, came across the street, still looking for Robert Murphy.

“I always wanted to meet the guy,” Bill Lundquist said. “I jumped with him. I’ve read about him. I’ve been here before and seen the street sign with his name on it. I just want to meet the guy.”

Another veteran told Lundquist that Murphy would be here late today. He was supposed to jump with 37 other old men in a tribute to the past, outside this village.

“Well, I guess it’ll have to wait,” Bill Lundquist was saying. “All I wanted to do was shake his hand and tell him – one old trooper to another – `Hey fella, you got the job done.’ “