GRANDCAMP-MAISY, France — His name was Frank Peregory. He came from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to France, where he fought bravely and was killed. Sixty years later, heroism like his is still bringing people together.
Under the warm sun of a waning afternoon, French and Americans – hardly the closest of friends this past year – gathered before a stone monument that tells how the Medal of Honor winner captured a German machine gun nest outside this Normandy town on June 8, 1944 – two days after the D-Day invasion.
A tricolor sash draped from one shoulder, the local parliament member, Jean-Marc Lefranc, spoke in English to the aging veterans from Peregory’s 29th Infantry Division who joined with townspeople to honor his memory.
D-Day “was the longest day but it was also the dawn of another day for France and for the whole world. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for what you did – and you did a great job,” Lefranc told the veterans and their families. “Long live the United States of America!”
Few, of course, have forgotten the chill that beset France-U.S. relations after their governments argued last year over the war in Iraq. One 29th Infantry Division veteran, 85-year-old Austin Cox from Crisfield, Md., said some hometown friends of his “even stopped drinking French wine” after France refused to fight with the U.S.-led coalition.
But in marking D-Day, the Allied landings that freed France from Nazi Germany’s grip, French and Americans are treasuring a bond that has survived these sixty years, outlasting diplomatic spats that few – excepting historians – remember.
Les Americains? “We only think well of them. If they hadn’t been here, what would Europe have been like?” said Marie-Therese Leruyer, a 78-year-old among the dozens of townspeople who turned out for the ceremony Friday at Grandcamp-Maisy.0