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!