Normandy D-Day Town Revisited

It's not much of a bustling town, but 60 years ago, the Normandy town of Sainte Mère Eglise was a critical crossroads. Young American paratroopers dropped from the sky right into the history books.

Sainte Mère Eglise was the first town to be liberated after the allied invasion of occupied Europe began.

In the pre-dawn darkness of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the 82nd Airborne floated down on parachutes to seize the town. By daylight, it was under American control, liberated from the Nazis.

For D-Day veterans like Bill Tucker, 78, the place would become much more than a dot on the map.

"I loved this town. More than any place other than my own home," Tucker said.

For Marc Lefevre, the town's mayor, the feeling is mutual.

Sainte Mère Eglise is a small piece of America and a Mecca, of sorts, for troops — old soldiers and young ones, too.

Spc. Daniel Frick of the 82nd Airborne Division paid the town a visit after returning from dangerous duty in Iraq.

"This is where everything happened. Right here," Frick said.

One Frenchman who lived in Sainte Mère Eglise on D-Day remembered Americans falling from the sky all around him.

"You can't imagine," he said,"how grateful we were. How grateful we are."

There is, inevitably, an air of carnival and considerable show business this week, given the 60th anniversary of the D-Day liberation.

Deep and Genuine Connection

But that doesn't seem to diminish the deep and genuine connection between the French who live in this old village and the aging American paratroopers who made it back.

"They'll go out of their way to help you," said Howard Manoian, 77, a corporal on D-Day.

The former paratrooper landed into the town's cemetery back in 1944.

"I dumped my chute and my junk in there," Manoian said, pointing to the cemetery. "And I climbed over the wall. I found my men here," he added, motioning to the other side of the brick wall.

Manoian doesn't have to cross the Atlantic to commemorate the anniversary. He has lived in Normandy since 1985, after finding a little house among a handful of roses.

The New England Yankee even has his own wall of fame in a local café.

"I don't have any regrets. No," Howard said about his new life.

"I'm still a part of history. Even when I'm gone, I'll be a part of history."

And he, and the other veterans, will always and forever be a part of the small, French village.