Avignon, something of a disappointment

25 August was a great disappointment for us. We attended the “liberation” ceremony in the great and historic city of Avignon. There was no American flag, and it was not planned to play the US national anthem but we were able to convince the protocol officer to include it in the ceremony. There were no speeches honoring the liberators, just the placing of six wreaths at the city’s war memorial by numerous dignitaries.'A Nos Morts' Monument in Avignon

For several years we have asked the city to honor our WWII Marne Men with a plaque. The city has a plaque from the 1st French Army in the town hall which claims the 1st French Army liberated the city. Other sources claim the FFI liberated the city. Historically, the German 19th Army evacuated the city, and the FFI did take over the town hall the evening the Germans left, but the first allied unit to arrive in Avignon was from the 7th Infantry Regiment.

Flags at AvignonWe were also surprised to see that at the war memorial there was no French flag displayed. There were, however, numerous flags from patriotic organizations present. From all appearances, Avignon was indifferent to the significance of the day. Even some local veterans and local citizens were disappointed with the ceremony. It is a shame the city missed the chance to commemorate appropriately such a significant anniversary.


More 2014 Commemorations, including a Sherman tank

Commemorations continued on 18 August, this time with our group traveling into the 45th Infantry Division sector to dedicate two plaques in honor of the Thunderbirds in the towns of Riez and Valensole. Both ceremonies were very nice, with the townspeople showing great appreciation for Mike Halik. Mike assisted in the unveiling of both plaques as no 45th ID veterans were present. Mayor Gérard Auric of Valensole and Mayor Christophe Bianchi presented us with wonderful gifts of agricultural products made with lavender – these two towns are in the heart of lavender country! This was the first time ever since the war any American veterans or soldiers have visited either town since the end of the war! The events were coordinated by Marc Tastenoy of Var 39-45, a reenactment group which is proud to portray 3rd Infantry Division soldiers.

On 19 August we were in Cadenet for their commemoration. The town dedicated a plaque in 2012 and we were happy to once again join the community for this special anniversary. The mayor, Fernand Perez, presented Mike Halik with the town’s medallion and Var 39-45, with some associated re-enactors, quite realistically portrayed the entry into town of the first US troops and the activities of the Resistance.

The ceremony at Vauvenargues20 August was another wonderful day as we drove to Vauvanargues, in the shadow of St. Victoire and near Picasso’s castle, for a fantastic ceremony at the town’s liberation monument. This time the event was supported by another reenactment group, Forty Four Memories, and associated re-enactors, and included a Sherman tank! Mayor Philippe Charrina of Vauvenargues did a great job coordinating the event. A group of re-enactors made their way from Italy, Quelli Dell’Epoca under the leadership of Luca Masciullo, to participate, and we learned they re-enact 3ID in Italy also! BG Pierre Kerlann, French Air Force, retired, organized both this event as well as the following ceremony in the next town, St. Marc Jaumegarde. These towns are on the route which the 30th Infantry Regiment took to enter Aix en Provence on 20 August 1944. The St. Marc Jaumegarde ceremony took place at the location of the plaque which was dedicated in 2012 on the spot where the 30th Infantry had its command post for the fight for Aix en Provence.

21 August ceremony in Aix en Provence 3The 20th concluded with a ceremony on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, at a monument with a plaque marking the location where the first 3rd Infantry Division troops entered the city on 20 August 1944. The Sherman made another appearance, as did the re-enactors portraying the 30th Infantry Regiment. This ceremony was organized and hosted by the city of Aix-en-Provence and run by longtime Society friend Mr. Gerard Deloche. The newly arrived Sous Prefect in Aix en Provence participated in the ceremony.

Mike Halik and the Stoys with the Italian re-enactors in Aix en ProvenceThe 21st of August was another great day as the city of Aix-en-Provence celebrated its liberation with a commemorative ceremony on the Place de Jean d’Arc. Gerard Deloach presented Mike Halik and the Stoys with diplomes d’Honneur, honorary citizenship, on behalf of the city for our annual participation in commemorations to honor our great 3rd ID soldiers. That afternoon there was a military vehicle parade and exhibition in the town’s center.

22 August found the group in Lançon-Provence, famous for a 12th century castle, and for having the most olive tree of any community in France! The town dedicated a plaque to the 3rd three years ago, but in the meantime has replaced the original with a much larger one. We had a wonderful ceremony organized by Mr. Jean Baptiste Falzon and Mayor Michel Mille. There was a very nice exposition of WWII artifacts and pictures in the town’s cultural hall, and we were again hosted for a great lunch with the Mayor, color bearers, town officials, and re-enactors. This was Mike Halik’s last ceremony of the trip, as he, Debbie, and Keith were leaving for Marseilles and then the long flight back to the USA. Everywhere Mike appeared he was showered with affection and respect as the visible representative of all the 3rd ID men who fought in the liberation of Southern France.

Our next ceremony was in Salon-de-Provence, a regular stop each year. Our 3rd ID plaque has been relocated to the city’s main monument honoring the Resistance on the outskirts of the city in the Val de Cuech. The location is where the Germans executed several resistance fighters in June 1944 and is a sacred place to the citizens of Salon. It was a very nice ceremony, with the city’s new mayor, Nicolas Isnard, running a tight ship. The mayor delivered a very good speech at the town hall after the ceremony as he opened the evening’s festivities in the city. It was great to see the US and French flags flying together at the city hall.

On 23 August the town of Le Thor commemorated its liberation with a very nice ceremony attended by the US Consul General in Marseille. The event was wonderful and we were given a very warm reception. Mr. Patrick Choukroune organized a military vehicle parade to kick off the event. Mayor Yves Bayon de Noyer was a wonderful host. His project officer, Florence Andrzejewski, did a marvelous job organizing the event. Monika received an honorary citizenship in Le Thor.

Convoy 23 August through the countryside around Malemort and Blauvac  In the afternoon Tim drove to La Barben for that community’s commemoration. La Barben has been a regular commemoration the past five years, and this year’s event was again very special. Mayor Christophe Amalric hosted a wonderful event. Meanwhile Monika traveled to the village of Malemort-du-Comtat for a wonderful program of events which included a military vehicle convoy through the beautiful countryside near the base of Mont Ventoux. The villages of Malemort-du-Comtat and neighboring Blauvac hosted a very nice ceremony in M23 August ceremony in Malemort du Comtatalemort-du-Comtat and a wonderful evening of swing music. Tim returned from La Barben in time to participate in most of the activities in Malemort-du-Comtat. Mayor Ghislain Roux of Malemort and Mayor Max Raspail of Blauvac intend to dedicate plaques to the 3rd ID next year. Both of us became honorary citizens of Malemort! The event was supported by re-enactors coordinated by Mr. Marco Paoli.

The morning of 24 August we participated in the ceremony at Chateaurenard outside of Avignon. We were disappointed the town failed to mention the role of the 3rd Infantry Division in its liberation and failed to display the American flag or to play the national anthem. However, we were very happy to participate in Cavaillon’s commemoration that afternoon! Deputé-Maire Jean-Claude Bouchet was joined by the Prefect of the Vaucluse from Avignon, the region’s senator, and the Conseil General for a very meaningful ceremony in the town hall which fully honored the 3rd ID’s role in Cavaillon’s liberation. Monika conducted the POW-MIA ceremony to honor those still missing from the war. It was very well received. Festivities included a military vehicle parade and pipe band music. While in Cavaillon we met the Mayor of Malaucène, Dominique Bodon. His village was also liberated by the 3rd ID, and sits right at the base of Mont Ventoux. He is also willing to dedicate a plaque to our veterans of the 3rd Infantry Division. We also met the deputy Mayor of Pertuis, the first major town of the Vaucluse Department liberated by the 3rd ID in August 1944, and the town is very interested in honoring its liberators with a commemorative plaque.

OP International’s first eleven days of commemorations of Operation Dragoon have been full of wonderful and meaningful experiences, greatly enriched by the Halik’s participation. The final six days promise to be every bit as meaningful as the citizens of Provence celebrate the 70th anniversary of their liberation and honor the memory of their liberators.23 August convoy and view of Mont Ventoux

From Saint Tropez to Vidauban and Le Luc: 2014 commemorations continue

The morning of 15 August 2014 dawned clear and the sun was already warming the beach of Pampelonne when Mayor Roland Bruno, French Parliament member Jean Michel Couve, and Conseil General Alan Spada and numerous patriotic and veterans’ associations commemorated the 70th anniversary of the landings by the 3rd Infantry Division’s 15th Infantry Regiment on Yellow beach. The 0830 ceremony was held at the 7th Army monument on Boulevard Patch in Ramatuelle. Mr. Mike Halik, 15th Infantry Regiment veteran, was with Tim and Monika Stoy of OP International, accompanied by his son, Keith, and daughter, Debbie. A color detachment from the 18th Military Police Brigade in Grafenwoehr, Germany consisting of Staff Sergeant Robert G. Mathis, SPC Cale Schmidt (US Color), and PFC Matthew McKinney (Army flag) participated in the ceremony. Monika and Tim placed a 3ID wreath at the monument and Monika presented an Outpost certificate of appreciation to the Mayor for his continued support of the OP and the Society. Mike Halik received Ramatuelle’s medallion from Mayor Bruno. John Shirley’s reunion tour group also participated in the ceremony, placing a 3rd ID tile at the monument.

Certificate of appreciation presentation to Mayor TuveriThe next ceremony was conducted in Saint Tropez at the town’s war memorial on the Place des Lices. Scheduled to begin at 0930, the ceremony was delayed until 1030 while the Mayor waited for the reunion tour group to arrive. The ceremony included members of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion Association, led by their president, Matt Anderson. Mayor Jean-Pierre Tuveri honored the soldiers of the 509th PIB and the 3rd ID’s 15th Infantry Regiment who liberated the village the afternoon of 15 August. Mike Halik was presented Saint Tropez’s town medallion during the ceremony. OP International placed a wreath at the town’s war memorial and honors were rendered at the town’s memorial to the 3rd ID and the 509th PIB which was dedicated in 2009.

A second ceremony was held at 1115, honoring the members of the naval forces which participated in Dragoon with the launching of a poppy wreath from a boat on the waters in the Bay of Saint Tropez, and the placing of wreaths at the memorial on the waterfront. Monika conducted a POW-MIA ceremony with Mayor Tuveri, in memory of the missing in action from Dragoon, especially the seventeen 509th PIB personnel who were dropped in the bay and whose remains were never recovered. The ceremony was very well-received by all present. The reunion group did not participate as it moved on to other ceremonies on the beaches.

Jean Louis Macault presents Mike Halik a replica of the Cogoling monument plaqueThe town hosted our delegation for lunch and then the group moved to Cogolin, where the town dedicated a traffic circle in honor of the 3rd ID, as well as a large monument collocated with the town’s previous monuments to the 1st French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny and the Resistance. Mayor Marc Étienne Lansard hosted a wonderful and well-attended dedication ceremony. The town’s project officer, Mr. Jean-Louis Macault, did a magnificent job in all aspects of organizing the event. The sculptor, Cécile De Kock, fashioned an impressive monument of six tons! Her father sculpted the 1st French Army monument in Cogolin! Mike Halik, Monika, and Tim were presented with the town’s medallion and replicas of the commemorative plaque on the 3rd ID monument. Unfortunately the reunion group, which had accepted the town’s invitation to the ceremony, arrived too late to participate in either the dedication of the traffic circle or the monument, but was present for the post-ceremony military vehicle parade.

That evening our group returned to Saint Tropez to join the town’s post ceremony reception in the town hall. From there we moved to the Citadel where we enjoyed a wonderful evening concert by famous French musician Michel Legrand and singer Natalie Dessay, and concluded with the town’s fireworks.At the citadel in Saint Tropez for the evening concert

The morning of 16 August the group traveled to le Londe les Maures, the location of SSG Stanley Bender’s (7th Infantry Regiment) Medal of Honor action on 17 August 1944. Our group participated in ceremonies in the town cemetery honoring several heroes of the fighting for the town from the African Commandos and the Resistance before moving to the Maravenne Bridge for a naming ceremony – henceforth the bridge will be known as Sergeant Bender Bridge! The events were organized by the Souvenir Français of La Londe with Mr. Yves Boyer as the prime mover for the naming ceremony. La Londe dedicated a plaque to the 3rd ID in 2006.

That late afternoon we traveled to Vidauban to participate in that town’s liberation ceremony. The town was liberated by the 45th Infantry Division, and a Thunderbird veteran, Mr. Robert Jackson, was present with his daughter Wendy and son-in-law Chuck Eckert, for the ceremony.

17 August was another great day as the town of Le Luc dedicated a plaque honoring the 3rd ID for its role in the town’s liberation. Several other units of the 6th Corps also fought for Le Luc, including Combat Command Sudre of the 1st French Armored Division and elements from the 45th ID. The town’s commemoration began with recognizing a soldier from the 2nd Cuirassier Regiment of CC Sudre who fell in Le Luc and is buried there. There followed an homage to the same soldier in a square named after him in the town. The major ceremony during which the plaque was unveiled was held in the square in front of the town’s war memorial. It was a great ceremony, and we once again honored POWs and MIAs, as well as unveiling the plaque. Mayor Philippe de la Grange and Monika both delivered comments and honors were suitably rendered. Mike Halik was presented with the town’s medallion, as was Mr. Robert Jackson, who attended the ceremony also. Again the color guard from Grafenwoehr did a splendid job under the broiling August sun of Provence. The event concluded with a reception in the courtyard of the town hall.

That afternoon we returned to La Londe for its liberation commemoration. Mayor François de Canson oversaw the event which consisted of four stages, each stage honoring either resistance fighters, African Commandos, local heroes, and the 3rd ID at the location of its plaque in St Honore, the site of the temporary cemetery established in mid-August 1944 which held remains from both the French and US forces. The final event was held in the town square in front of the war memorial, and was well attended. A parade of military vehicles finished the commemoration.

The evening of 17 August we were back in le Luc for fireworks and a concert by a very good local band.

These three days were truly memorable. Each of the visited communities honored Mike Halik and the 3rd Infantry Division, and we were honored to help commemorate the great service of the 45th Infantry Division in Vidauban. So far, the 70th anniversary commemorations at community level have been fabulous!

Veterans tour Operation Dragoon with Outpost International

Report from Tim Stoy on the commemorations in France:

OP International had a great day today!  This morning we dedicated a commemorative plaque honoring Audie Murphy at the location of his Distinguished Service Cross action at Les Bouis in Ramatuelle. The ceremony was hosted by Mayor Roland Bruno of Ramatuelle, and the plaque was sponsored by Mr. Patrice de Colmont, proprietor of the Les Bouis estate and owner of Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach – the beach where the 15th Infantry landed at 0800 on 15 August 1944.Mayor Bruno, Mr. de Colmont, and Monika Stoy all delivered comments in honor of the occasion.

Mr. Mike Halik, 15th Infantry Regiment veteran who was wounded on 15 August 1944 was there for the ceremony, along with his daughter Debbie and son Keith.  This trip is his first time back to Southern France since August 1944!

Also present was Mr. Robert Jackson, 94, a veteran of Operation Dragoon who landed at Ste Maxime with the 45th Infantry Division, along with his daughter Wendy and son in law .

The Mayor of Salzburg, Austria, Dr. Heinz Schaden, accompanied by Mrs Schaden, traveled over 1000 km to be present for the ceremony! The Marne Division started its European campaign on the coast of France, and ended it in May 1945 in Salzburg!  Audie Murphy received his Medal of Honor in a ceremony held in Salzburg on 2 June 1945.

3 soldiers from the 18th Military Police Brigade in Grafenwoehr traveled to Provence to support the ceremony and provided a color guard of US colors and the Army flag – SSG Mathis, SPC Schmidt, and PFC McKinney. They did an outstanding job with the colors on a very windy day.

Mr. Marc Tastenoy and Mr. Julian Auvertin were dressed in accurate period uniforms and represented the soldiers of yesterday well, and Julian carried the Outpost flag in the ceremony.

It was a wonderful ceremony, with local French veterans present as well as representatives from patriotic organizations.

The Yellow Ribbon fife and drum corps provided excellent musical support.

La Croix Valmer 3ID monument

La Croix Valmer 3ID monument

After the ceremony Tim Stoy led the group over the terrain of Audie Murphy’s DSC fight. The terrain is much more challenging than depicted in To Hell and Back!  This particular battlefield is now an organic farm where Mr. de Colmont produces excellent vegetables and delicious grapes.

Before heading to Club 55 for a delicious lunch hosted by Mr. de Colmont, the group drove to La Croix-Valmer to visit the 3rd Infantry Division’s beach head monument there.  This was especially meaningful to Mike Halik who had never seen it before, and to the three active duty soldiers, who were deeply impressed at the historical significance of all that was happening today.

Lunch at Club 55

Lunch at Club 55

We were served a wonderful meal at Club 55, the most famous club in the Mediterranean area and possibly the world.  Words cannot describe the quantities and wonderful flavors of the food served, and Patrice was a wonderful host.  We presented him certificates of appreciation from OP International and the 15th Infantry Regiment Association, a Can Do blazer badge, a Can Do coffee mug, and numerous other 15th Infantry and 3rd ID items. Patrice presented us with nice Club 55 gifts, but most importantly with wonderful memories and a pilgrimage site to return to with the Audie Murphy plaque!

The day was capped off by a visit to the beach where our men landed on 15 August 1944. Walking from Club 55 straight on to the beach, Mike Halik trod once again the fateful sand where he stepped on a land mine on August 1944.  This time there were no mines, just curious onlookers as they watched him doggedly walk through the sand to the waters edge. There were tears in many eyes as we watched him and saw the fierce determination in his eyes.

What a great Marne and Can Do day!

First to the Rhine: The 6th Army Group in World War II

It’s a long march from St. Tropez on the Mediterranean, across the length of France, over into Germany, down to Munich, and into Austria, a semicircle well over eight hundred miles. The 6th Army Group, comprised of the U.S. Seventh and French First armies, fought its way along that route, a route often defined by the rivers and mountains that needed to be crossed: the Rhône River, the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine River, the Danube.

While some called it the “champagne campaign,” the landings near St. Tropez on 15 August 1944 were more vigorously defended than those in North Africa or even Anzio. Fortunately, the American divisions that came ashore were hard-bitten veterans of the war in Italy and, in the case of the 3d Infantry Division, North Africa. The French units also included many veterans of the Italian campaign and comprised Frenchmen and Africans in almost equal numbers. As the Allies battled on, the French ranks were swelled by tens of thousands of Free French Forces of the Interior, the famous maquis. German forces arrayed against the Allies included the famed 11th Panzer Division, an Eastern front veteran known as the “Ghost Division,” which would hit the Allied advance time and again only to slip away before it could be pinned and destroyed. But the Allies pushed on, northward into and over the Vosges Mountains.

First to the Rhine tells the story of that nine-month campaign from the strategic plane down through the corps, division, and regimental levels to the personal experience of the men in combat, including the likes of Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated infantryman of the war. It features little-known battles, including one at Montélimar, when an ad hoc American armored command and the 36th Infantry Division came within a hair’s breadth (and several days of hard fighting) of cutting off the entire German Nineteenth Army. Also covered is the vicious fighting during the German Nordwind counteroffensive in January 1945 and the French-American offensive to clear the Colmar Pocket between the Vosges and the Rhine.

Authors Harry Yeide and Mark Stout draw heavily on official American and French after-action reports, other contemporary combat records such as highly detailed S-3 and G-3 operations journals, and interviews conducted by the U.S. Army with soldiers shortly after the actions occurred. Also used are personal recollections written by key commanders in American, French, and German ranks. Illustrations come from official U.S. Army photographs and film. The result is the first popular English-language history that explores the French role in the fighting and the relationship between the U.S. Army and the French forces that fought under American command—and at times also controlled American divisions.

You can order it from Amazon.

An American Knight: A Tank Destroyer Story

This book, by CDR Victor “Tory” Failmezger, is the story of a young Lieutenant, Thomas Peter Welch, in the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion during World War II. The story of the 601st TD BN is told in Tommy’s more than 150 letters from the front and the unpublished memoirs and diaries of the men who were there. The book follows the Battalion from stateside training to North Africa, the withdrawal at the Kasserine Pass, and on to victory over Rommel at El Guetter. The Battalion was part of the invasion of Italy at Salerno and crossed the Volturno on the road to Cassino. Landing at Anzio, they became trapped on the beachhead for four months until the breakout and the liberation of Rome. They were first ashore for the “Forgotten D-Day” in Southern France and were there for the resultant battles against winter and the SS in the Vosges Mountains, and smashing the Colmar Pocket. At the end, they crossed the Siegfried Line and raced across Germany to Hitler’s Eagle Nest.

“An American Knight” contains period maps and hundreds of illustrations, many from private collections and never before published. It is 480 pages, with hundreds of footnotes, 12 appendices and a twenty-plus page bibliography. For more details and ordering information, see the website.