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    Spartans connect with past; Son makes pilgrimage to honor heroic father

    Spartans connect with past; Son makes pilgrimage to honor heroic father

    Photo By Lt. Col. Adam Hallmark | A stained glass window in the Angoville-au-Plain, France church, given to the village...... read more read more

    SAINTE-MERE-ÉGLISE, France – Seventy years after the launch of the largest air and seaborne operation in the history of warfare, paratroopers with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, took part in a ceremony to commemorate the actions of one of its units in the small French village of Angoville-au-Plain June 7.

    The 501st Infantry Regiment, of which today’s 1st Battalion is assigned to the Spartan Brigade, fought as the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) under the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. The 501st PIR played a key role in all of the division’s engagements to include Operations Overlord in Normandy, Market Garden in Holland and the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

    However, it was during the Normandy campaign that the 501st got its first real taste of combat.

    Activated at Camp Toccoa, Ga., in 1942 and built upon the Army’s famed parachute test platoon, the 501st was commanded by Col. Howard “Jumpy” Johnson until his death during Operation Market Garden in October 1944. In Normandy, the 101st Airborne Division tasked Johnson and the 501st to drop in north and east of the town of Carentan in order to secure the La Barquette locks on the Douve River.

    The plan did not survive initial contact with the enemy.

    Intense German anti-aircraft fire over Normandy forced many C-47 pilots to take evasive action, leading to missed drop zones for both the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. So erratic were the drops that some paratroopers found themselves a staggering 21 miles from their planned drop zones. Such an error forced paratroopers from various units to form hodgepodge fighting outfits until the confusion could be sorted out, leading to what later became known as “Little Groups of Paratroopers, or “LGOPs” for short.

    To the dismay of German forces, initiative, adaptability and the “can do” fighting spirit of the American paratrooper won the day despite the initial setback.

    “These men knew what they had to accomplish,” said Robert Wright Jr. of Port Richey, Fla., and the son of one of Angoville-au-Plain’s two celebrated heroes. “When my father was here on D-Day, he worked alongside soldiers from not only his own regiment (501st), but even the 506th [Parachute Infantry Regiment] as well.”

    Robert Wright Sr., a senior line medic with Dog Company, 501st PIR, jumped from his C-47 and came down near a stream running through a farm field roughly 150 yards from the 11th century church that would become the location for a pivotal moment in his life, the actions within and around it forever etched in his memory.

    As action with the occupying German forces intensified around Angoville-au-Plain, the village church soon found a new role as a makeshift casualty collection point and aid station.

    Wright Sr., along with Able Company, 501st PIR senior line medic Kenneth Moore, took charge of first aid operations within the church. Meanwhile, the battle outside raged and the church, along with Wright Sr. and Moore’s personal safety, changed hands a number of times, but it’s what they managed to accomplish in conjunction with their primary duties that proved remarkable.

    “It was Dad’s idea to bar any weapons whatsoever from being brought inside the church,” said Wright Jr.

    Easy enough when you’re working alongside friendly forces, difficult to impossible when enemy forces are entered into the equation.

    However, that’s exactly what Wright Sr. and Moore accomplished.

    “When a German officer walked into the church, dad told him he had to leave his weapon outside,” said Wright, Jr. “The German hesitated at first, but when he saw that dad and [Kenneth] Moore were also treating wounded German soldiers, he complied and the church was marked with a red cross and made off limits to military action.”

    At one point, a mortar round came through the roof of the church and landed inside without exploding. Wright Jr. said that his father, without a second thought, picked it up and threw it outside. Wright Sr. and Moore’s courage and devotion to duty during the action that finally subsided on June 8 earned them both the Silver Star Medal.

    When it was finally over, Wright Sr. and Moore had treated 80 wounded American and German soldiers, losing only three in the process, as well as a young boy from the village.

    Although separated by an ocean, the Wright family and the people of Angoville-au-Plain share a special bond.

    “Many of the people here today are the children and grandchildren of those who lived here on June 6,” explained Wright Jr.

    Like many World War II veterans, Wright Sr., who passed away last December, was not one to openly talk about his wartime experiences.

    “Growing up, I didn’t have an appreciation for what my father did during the war because he never talked about it,” said Wright, Jr. “It wasn’t till later in life . . . that he began to open up – but the people here [in Angoville-au-Plain] knew what he did.

    The June 7 ceremony wasn’t Wright Jr.’s first – he’s attended others. When asked why he keeps coming back, he explained that such ceremonies were important to his father and that it’s important to carry on his legacy. More importantly for Wright Jr., there’s another reason why he keeps coming back.

    “If anything, these people [of Angoville-au-Plain] helped me to learn who my father was,” he added.

    Seventy years after the action that took place in Angoville-au-Plain, which today boasts approximately 50 residents, the impact that Wright Sr. and Moore had on this rural French community and surrounding area is still plainly visible as approximately 500 people turned out to remember what two young privates from the 501st PIR accomplished all those years ago.



    Date Taken: 06.07.2014
    Date Posted: 06.10.2014 04:28
    Story ID: 132633
    Location: ANGOVILLE-AU-PLAIN, 50, FR
    Hometown: PORT RICHEY, FL, US

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