Our best tour on our 3 Week Europe Trip was by far a private tour with our guide Hugh, a former Danish paratrooper and WWll historian. He drove us around in his original WWll Jeep, showing us where the historic D-Day Invasion and subsequent Liberation of France occurred, and shared stories and photographs of lesser-known but monumental events which took place during this turning point in WWll. Hugh is not your average guide, he was a consultant for the film Band of Brothers, has helped erect many of the monuments in the area to preserve the local WWII history, and is a paratrooper and jumpmaster for the Round Canopy Parachuting Team, performing WWII parachuting demonstrations and jumps to honor Veterans and Paratroopers.
Mr. S and our guide, Hugh in front of his Jeep
One of the particularly memorable stories he told us on our tour was of two 101st Division paratroopers and medics in June of 1944, Kenneth Moore and Robert Wright. Kenneth and Robert were both medics assigned to different units. Many of the pilots flying D-Day night missions were inexperienced, and dropped their paratroopers several miles from their objectives. Kenneth was dropped off target a few miles away, and landed in a field surrounded by hedgerows, away from the rest of his unit. He had chosen to carry only a pineapple grenade as his weapon. As he made his way through the thick hedgerows at night, he heard a terrible noise. He continued on, and heard the scary noise again, even louder! It seemed to come from a monster. Shaken and scared, he pulled the pin on his grenade and tossed it away. With his thumb on the spoon of the grenade, he crept forward until he came face to face with the monster, and found- a cow.
Cows in Normandy, France
He couldn’t throw his grenade at the cow, so he looked around for a safe place to dispose of the grenade. Across the road he found a small farm with a large pile of cow manure, and Kenneth decided this was the best place to dispose of the grenade while doing the least harm. He tossed the grenade in and ran away as the manure pile exploded.
Farm where Kenneth threw his grenade into the manure pile
Eventually, he met with his friend Robert, and their primary objective as medics was to find a safe place to set up an aide station for the wounded.
Place Toccoa Church
They came across this abandoned church in the town of Angoville-au-Plain, and decided it would serve as their aide station. Kenneth and Robert also decided that they would treat all the wounded, both Allied and German troops, as their job was to save human lives. They had one rule- no weapons inside the church. Every wounded soldier had to leave their weapon outside the church before they would be allowed inside for treatment. Kenneth and Robert treated 80 wounded German and American troops in the church, and all 80 wounded survived. As the battle raged on through the coming days, this church was on the front line, and switched back and forth from American occupied to German. While it was German occupied, several German troops kicked down the door and entered with weapons drawn. When they saw the American medics were treating both Americans and Germans, they turned and left. The church was not undamaged from the battle, however, a mortar shell hit the church roof causing more injuries and all the windows were shattered from gun fire. The Allies eventually took control of the area and after the battle was over, two soldiers descended from the bell tower of the church. They were German snipers, and unable to see what was happening below, came down to surrender. Robert and Kenneth took their weapons and sent them away.
Years later, Kenneth and Robert were reunited when the story of their heroic deeds came to light. They returned to Angoville-au-Plain occasionally for ceremonies commemorating their actions on D-Day until they both passed away. In one such ceremony, our guide met a local woman, and he asked her if she remembered where she was on D-Day. “Yes,” she responded, “I remember. I was 12 years old, and lived on a small farm just down the road. I was sleeping in my bed when all of a sudden, I heard an explosion! The next morning my family saw some #@!$%! had blown up our manure pile! We cleaned and cleaned, but the smell was so bad, it never went away, and we eventually had to leave our home because of the stench. If I ever meet that @!# who did it, I’ll give him a piece of my mind!” Our guide later introduced her to Kenneth and of course they parted friends, and the memorable and humorous story was a highlight of our tour. If you visit Place Toccoa Church today, you’ll find that the church pews still have visible bloodstains, and through generous donations, the church windows have been replaced with beautiful stained glass windows depicting paratroopers and the Red Cross.