Friday, November 18, 2022

Stephen G. Rabe's "The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy"

Stephen G. Rabe is the Ashbel Smith Chair in History (emeritus) at the University of Texas at Dallas. He has written or edited thirteen scholarly books, including Kissinger and Latin America: Intervention, Diplomacy, and Human Rights (2020). Rabe is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Rabe applied the "Page 99 Test" to his newest book, The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy: A Study of Resistance, Courage, and Solidarity in a French Village, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains the essence of The Lost Paratroopers. Page 99 begins with a new subsection, “Paratroopers Come to Graignes.” The text then proceeds:
Of the 378 aircraft that carried the 82nd Airborne Division’s paratroopers toward Normandy, one group logically had to earn the dubious distinction of being the most off target. This was a nine-plane formation that carried the majority of the Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 507th Regiment. On these nine planes were 143 paratroopers. The distance between the villages of Amfreville and Graignes is 31.2 kilometers or about 19 miles via the N 13 highway.
An inspiring and compelling story ensued from what happened when the paratroopers found themselves lost in Graignes, Normandy, a village of 900 people. Although it speaks of a D-Day event, the book is not military history per se. It focuses on the unbreakable bond between the paratroopers and the villagers. The ranking officer decided to defend the village. Villagers were overjoyed by the decision. They went into the marshes or marais to retrieve the paratroopers’ equipment, gathered intelligence, and carried out reconnaissance missions. The women of the village launched a round-the-clock cooking campaign to feed their liberators. Village women risked their lives, surreptitiously entering German-occupied towns to obtain food supplies. The people of Graignes embraced the paratroopers, because they despised the Nazis. Middle-aged men, including the parish priest, were proud veterans of World War I. Young men, who had been in the French army, were now held as hostages in Germany. The occupying Germans were seizing other young men for forced labor in Germany. Children went hungry under the Nazi-imposed food rationing system. German troops were also stealing the region’s renowned Normande cows.

The paratroopers ultimately had to abandon the village on 11-12 June, when a battalion of Waffen—SS attacked and overran the outnumbered paratroopers. The Nazis executed wounded paratroopers and villagers, including the parish priest. The people of Graignes remained steadfast in the face of war crimes, the torching of their village, and forced exile. They helped guide 90 paratroopers to safety through the marais. A farm family hid another 21 paratroopers, including the author’s father, for three days in a barn. The rescued paratroopers went on to participate in the Normandy campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, the jump over the Rhine River, and the liberation in the Rhineland of thousands of Eastern European slave laborers. In the postwar years, the paratroopers often returned to Graignes and successfully lobbied the U.S. government to bestow highest honors on the villagers for their courage and solidarity.
Learn more about The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy at the Cambridge University Press website and contact the author at his faculty email address.

--Marshal Zeringue