News: 89-year-old WWII veteran honors fallen comrade in France
Story by Brandon Beach
ST. AVOLD, France – Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., an 89-year-old World War II veteran from Horsham, Pa., honored the grave of Pfc. Richard Vargas during a wreath laying ceremony here at Lorraine American Cemetery June 2. Both Cruise and Vargas served as paratroopers with H Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne, and were part of the airborne assault during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944.
Nearly seventy years ago, on June 7, 1944, Pfc. Leslie Cruise and Pfc. Richard Vargas found themselves under enemy attack by German forces.
The place was an old farm road outside the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, France. The two privates first class were Army paratroopers with H Co., 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne and part of the airborne assault during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
With mortar shells landing all around them, the two men took cover at the edge of the road flopping themselves belly first onto the dirt, inches from each other. One of the shells landed next to Vargas’ right leg. It was at that moment that Cruise heard a whimper from his friend.
“I turned him over face up. His whole right side from thigh to ankle was covered with blood. I tried to bandage him,” said Cruise, as he stood here at Lorraine American Cemetery June 2 to pay tribute to his fallen comrade 70 years after that fatal day in Normandy. “He saved me by being there. To this day, I don’t forget that.”
Accompanied by an honor guard of U.S. paratroopers from the Kaiserslautern, Germany-based 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, and the Ramstein, Germany-based 435th Contingency Response Group, Cruise, now 89, laid a wreath of pink lilies and yellow roses next to the grave of his wartime companion during an afternoon remembrance ceremony under blue skies.
“This is a day of remembrance, something that happened 70 years ago on June 7,” said Cruise, as he rested his hand on the top of Vargas’ grave. “Perhaps now, I can set it aside and go on without it, but I doubt it.”
The ceremony, organized by the National Warplane Museum, concluded with the playing of Taps by an Army bugler.
For Cruise, this is a first stop of an extended tour that will take him to other 70th anniversary D-Day events throughout France, including the C47 “Whiskey 7” flyover of Normandy this weekend.
“It’s a sobering and contemplative time for many of us. It’s also a time of personal thanks,” said the 89-year-old WWII veteran from Horsham, Pa. “We did what we were supposed to do. Some made it, and some didn’t. You can’t forget it.”