The Carentan Historical Foundation in association with the D-Day Paratrooper Historical Center and the Municipalities of Carentan and Saint-Côme-du-Mont in Normandy is organizing its 5th annual march on Sunday 7th June 2009. The 18km trek follows the historic trail carved out by the 101st Airborne Division as its soldiers fought bravely to liberate the region in 1944.
This being the 65th anniversary of D-Day we are expecting more than five hundred participants to take part. The marchers who include people from the USA and Japan will be dressed in US Airborne clothing (authentic to the period) to commemorate the sacrifice of the young American paratroopers who went on to capture Carentan.
The day will start in the heart of the battlefield at Saint-Côme-du-Mont with a ceremony to honor Technical Sergeant Joseph R. Beyrle. Joe was a paratrooper from the famous 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who was taken prisoner after he landed on the church roof on June 6th 1944 by German paratroopers from the 6 FJR.
Three of his comrades in arms will be making a special trip from the USA (two of them for the first time since the war) to participate at the ceremony and to promote a new book ‘Tonight We Die As Men’ and it’s companion DVD ‘The Forgotten Battalion,’ at Dead Man’s Corner Museum, about their exploits in Normandy during June 1944.
Bill Galbraith, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division
Manny Barrios 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division
Ralph Bennett, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division (TBC)
TONIGHT WE DIE AS MEN
Taking their title from a brief prayer by 3rd Battalion C.O. Lt. Col. Robert Lee Wolverton (who would be killed during the early morning hours of D-Day) said shortly before boarding their C-47 "Skytrain" aircraft for the flight to Normandy, Gardner and Day have produced a highly detailed study of one battalion's harrowing first weeks fighting in France.
As Ed Shames, a veteran of the 506th, writes in the Foreword, Tonight We Die As Men is "the most detailed history ever written about the battles that began the drive to free the European continent of the German armies. Many books and accounts have been written about the invasion of Normandy, but never have you read one that has been more accurate about the facts and events of this period of warfare."
The battalion's D-Day objective was to land at Drop Zone ‘D’, east of Saint-Côme-du-Mont and seize control of two small wooden bridges - one for foot traffic and the other for vehicles - over the Douve River east of Carentan. The mission was vital, for the Germans had built the bridges a few months earlier to enable them to rush reinforcements into the coastal area in the event of an Allied landing.
The fierce and costly battle for these two bridges is the focus of Tonight We Die As Men. The Germans, too, knew the importance of the bridges and would not relenquish them without an all-out fight.
The two British authors take the reader back to Toccoa, Georgia, and the initial training received (some would say endured) by the men of the 506th PIR, commanded by Col. Robert F. Sink, then on to airborne training at Fort Benning and Camp Mackall. They also flesh out the personalities mentioned in the book so that by the time the regiment is in England and preparing for its baptism of fire in Normandy, the reader has developed a fondness for each trooper.
This personalizing of the men also serves to intensify the feeling of loss when the soldiers are killed in the savage fighting on D-Day and the month after. Of the 575 officers and men who jumped on D-Day, the unit lost 93 killed and 73 listed as missing in action. Scores more were wounded. It will be hard to find a better book about a single airborne battalion in World War II.
Mason B. Webb WWII History Magazine
The marchers will then step back in time to discover the Norman Bocage that was so familiar to the soldiers of 101st Airborne. The final leg of the event takes the participants, lead by tanks and a host of military vehicles - down the now famous "Purple Heart Lane" across the Douve bridges before ending in Carentan.
All participants please note: US Para and airborne troops combat uniform, 101st Airborne Division is required. At 15:15 approx, members of the public can expect to see the marchers lead by their vehicle escort arriving in ‘Purple Heart Lane’ for the final leg of the event before crossing over the Douve bridges and finishing in Carentan at 16:00. 9 h 00 Depart of the BIA
10 h 00 500 Paratroops of the ‘BIA March’ gather in the village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont for the ceremony to Joe Beyrle
15 h 15 Marchers arrive at «Dead Man’s Corner Museum» to form up for final phase
15 h 45 Marchers move down Purple Heart Lane in formation to Carentan
16 h 30 Recreation of the famous medal ceremony in the square at Carentan
Arrival of the veterans and Honor Guard
Followed by a short ceremony attended by town officials
On June 6 and 7, a special display about the 3rd Battalion of the 506th PIR will take place at the D-Day Paratrooper Historical Center in the field at Dead Man’s Corner.
BIA March Information & registration: Carentan Historical Foundation
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel : +188.8.131.52.00.42
T/4 Joseph R. “Jumpin Joe” BEYRLE
“I” Company, 506th PIR,
101st Airborne Division
Joe Beyrle is thought to be the one of only a handful of American soldiers to have served in both the United States Army and the Soviet Army in World War II. “The invasion of Normandy was on,” recalled Joe (who has since passed away). “We flew approximately 90 minutes from England before crossing the Normandy Peninsula. Flying at approximately 700 feet the formation started taking AA and ground fire. Several of our planes were hit and exploded or crashed. We got the stand-up and hook-up, red light, green light and jumped at approximately 400 feet directly over the town of Saint-Côme-du-Mont.” Under fire from a machine gun located in the church tower he landed on the church and slid feet first down it’s high-pitched roof but somehow managed to check his fall. A barn was burning some distance away at Tammerville, lighting up the area, and the Germans had now turned their fire in its direction. Alone, Joe decided to head west back down the line of flight where he hoped to locate other members of his stick. During the hours before daybreak he located and attempted to destroy a mobile generator near the center of town and using hand grenades attacked a group of Germans who were gathering nearby. Whilst trying to find a safe way out of the town he crawled through a hedgerow and stumbled into a well-defended German MG42 position and was surrounded by enemy paratroopers and taken prisoner. Faking a back injury, two of the enemy soldiers took him to an aid station in the town recently established and run by his battalion surgeon Dr Stanley Morgan, who had also been captured by the Germans. After a failed escape attempt he was marched to a nearby prisoner-holding area before being taken to a German underground HQ in an apple orchard south of Saint-Côme for interrogation.
Pfc. Manuel M. “Manny” BARRIOS
“I” Company, 506th PIR
101st Airborne Division
Flying into Normandy on D-Day, twenty-two year old Manny was on Joe Beyrle’s plane and landed in a garden on the eastern edge of Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Alone and separated from the rest of the stick he spent the next three days fighting for survival until being injured by allied shellfire (ironically on his 23rd birthday). Seriously wounded by shrapnel, Manny encouraged a passing German doctor (at gunpoint) to treat him. His ordeal came to an end after being discovered by soldiers from the 101st as they pushed forward into Saint-Côme. He was evacuated back to England by hospital ship around June 10th and returned to active duty six months later at Bastogne. Manny lives in Whittier, California where he is an active member of the 101st Southern California Chapter.
Sgt. Ralph BENNETT
“H” Company, 506th PIR
101st Airborne Division
As a 60mm mortar sergeant, Ralph Bennett’s job in Normandy was to provide direct fire support to 3rd platoon H Company. He was among the lucky few who landed on drop zone D and actually made it to the road bridge at Brévands. From first light on June 6th his team played a vital defensive role until the bridge was partially destroyed by an allied air attack on D +1. Ralph took part in the horrific battle of ‘bloody gully’ on June 13th when the German 6th Parachute Regiment together with the 17th SS began a fearsome but unsuccessful counter attack on Carentan. After promotion to 3rd platoon sergeant Ralph went on to win a Silver Star in Holland and played an active part in the defence of Bastogne. In 1945 he returned to the UK and married his English sweetheart June Earl.
Machine gunner Bill Galbraith landed on the southwestern edge of drop zone D and begrudgingly joined with the 501 for the attack on the La Barquette locks. He returned to 3/506 on the evening of 8th June only to find that they had been totally decimated. He also fought at ‘bloody gully’ on June 13th and recalls, “I don’t think there were more than 28 of us left in I Co after the battle”. While on leave after Normandy Bill met and fell in love with Anna. After being promoted and transferred to S3 (Bn Planning & Operations) Bill’s war ended in Holland when on September 18th he was seriously wounded while entering the outskirts of Eindhoven by German artillery. After spending three years in hospital Bill finally married Anna in 1948 - just after Christmas. Bill now lives in Murrieta, California with Anna and their nine children.