By Sergeant. 1st Class Aaron Heft
As crowds of Parisians waved banners and shouted for joy, the thud of hundreds of pairs of boots marching in unison echoed down the Champs-Elysées, Paris’ most famous avenue, on August 29, 1944.
Columns of troops from the 28th Division marching through the French capital marked not only the end of the German occupation of Paris, but the beginning of the end of Nazi control over the rest of the country.
After the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, the fighting bogged down in brutal field-to-field combat across the French countryside. “Hedgerow Hell” consisted of fighting through 4 to 6 foot tall hard root filled walls overgrown with thick hedges and trees where German troops hid in foxholes and opened with deadly crossfire automatic weapons.
The 28th Pennsylvania Division joined other Allied troops to force their way through this terrain, liberating towns like Percy and Gathemo. As the groves of Normandy disappeared behind them, they were met with cheering crowds who greeted them with showers of fruit, wine and cries of “Vive lesAméricains”.
Now commanded by Brig. General Norman Cota, decorated veteran of North Africa and D-Day, the Keystone Division has been told they will be transported to Versailles, the historic palace of the Kings of France, and take part in another historic moment for the people of France . They would walk down the Champs-Elysées the next day, marking the liberation of Paris and the upcoming liberation of the entire French nation.
Despite the festivities, elements of the division were still working through the realities of war.
In his memoir, “I Was Baker 2,” Platoon Sergeant JJ Kuhn of the 110th Infantry recalled, “We were in a hell of a skirmish when a runner came up to me. ‘Get your platoon back to the park,’ he said. he said., ‘We are going to march through Paris.’
Kuhn pulled his men out of contact to find trucks ready to ship them to an assembly area, with mattresses and food for the men.
Harry Kemp, company commander of the 109th Infantry, recalled in his book “The Regiment: Let the Citizens Bear Arms” that the parade was not just a spectacle but also “a tactical move to regain contact with the enemy forces still in flight to Germany”. “
Despite the tactical significance, the parade was meant to inspire pride and fighting spirit in the Allied cause.
The men were rounded up in cold rain the day before the parade, given clean uniforms and ordered to prepare their equipment. The men knew that the next morning they would represent the whole Allied cause in the eyes of the French.
On August 29, the rain stopped and the rising sun inspired the men of Keystone’s division as they formed 24 men abreast along the side streets of Paris.
A directive from the division outlined the order of march: the division’s 28th Reconnaissance Troop would lead the way, with the unit split into two columns of men. Behind them followed the 112th, 110th and 109th infantry regiments in two columns.
After a 15-minute pause, the division’s artillery and tank destroyer units stormed past, with the anti-aircraft artillery, 103rd medical battalion, 103rd engineer battalion and 81st chemical mortar battalion closing the back of the column.
The details have been spelled to a “t”. Unit colors would be flown, arms slung, and personnel would execute a straight gaze as they passed the reviewing stand. The division directive included a note that “all personnel will be impressed with the honor bestowed on the division and the importance of presenting the parade in the exceptional manner of the 28th Division.”
The division did not disappoint its new commander. The march was perfectly executed. Parisians swarmed the men, throwing bouquets, applauding “Vive lesAméricains!” and occasionally passing a sip of wine or cognac to the marching troops.
The Division’s route down the Champs-Élysées took them around the Arc de Triomphe, a memorial to fallen French soldiers in previous wars. They split their columns around the monument, again combining them in review for Generals Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges and Norman Cota of the division.
French dignitaries, including General Charles de Gaulle and Le Clerc, also watched as the columns of Pennsylvania Guards marched past in perfect stride as the crowd waved French and American banners.
The 28th Division’s newspaper, The Invader, commemorated the event with a special edition on August 30, 1944. A headline at the top of the center column exclaimed “WE MARCH TO PARIS”. The lines echoed to the men of the division the importance of their march, the value beyond the steps taken and the routes taken. “History was written in Paris on that dark rainy Tuesday – August 29, 1944 – because with the entry of our division, the French capital, symbol of French freedom and center of European civilization, became free again.”
For many members of the division, the parade will live on in their memories beyond the months of fierce fighting.
Pfc. Robert Smith, a medic assigned to the 112th Infantry who would later fight in the Hurtgen Forest and the frozen hell of the Ardennes, said after the war that Paris marked one of the proudest moments of his military career.
Years later, in his wartime memoirs entitled “Medic!”, he recalled the emotion felt by many other Keystone soldiers who marched through the streets of Paris on that hot August morning: “I still feel the pride and excitement I felt that day.”
(Editor’s Note: Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Heft is a former platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He is currently the NCO in charge of the Army National Guard Leaders Development Program in Arlington, Va.)
|Date posted:||26.08.2022 15:08|
|Location:||FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pennsylvania, USA|
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