Focus on Fostoria - Feb_18_04

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Fostoria Focus - February 18, 2004

WWII Paratrooper Bob Mesnard Gets
Thanks from French Government

By Leonard Skonecki

- Click for related picture -

It's always nice to get a "thank you" when you do someone a good turn. World War II veteran Bob Mesnard did the people of France a good turn 60 years ago.

On January 19, at a ceremony at Good Shepherd Home, Bob received a formal thank you from the "Republicque Francais." For the past several years, the French Defense Ministry has been awarding a "Diplome" to American veterans who participated in the liberation of France in World War II.

The award is in French. Translated, it reads: France recognizes the action of the soldiers of the allied armies, engaged in the invasion of Normandy and the Liberation 1944-1945.

Bob was a paratrooper with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, the "All American Division."

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Bob and 150,000 other Allied soldiers supported by the airmen of 5,000 planes and the sailors of over 4,000 ships invaded Normandy. It was time to evict Hitler from Western Europe.

The funny thing was, Bob didn't have to jump into combat. He could have stayed in his first job in the Army – a clerk typist.

But one day he was processing some papers for his commanding officer. They were a request for volunteers for the Army's new parachute divisions.

"I saw those," Bob said, "and I thought ‘I could do that.'"

Then it was off to Fort Benning, Ga., to learn how to jump out of airplanes.

On D-Day, Bob jumped into France behind Omaha Beach. In the middle of the night the 82nd was flown across the English Channel.

Bob was in a C-47 transport plane. He looked out the window and saw the invasion fleet in the Channel.

"There was nothing but ships as far as you could see. It looked like a floating city," he said.

As the American paratroopers dropped into France, they were fired on by German forces.

"It was dark," said Bob. "You could see the tracers coming up from the ground. They seemed so close I thought I could reach out and touch them."

Bob's award was accompanied by a letter from Jean-Pierre Allex-Lyoudi, Consul General of France.

Ambassador Allex-Lyoudi wrote, "The French authorities have decided to award a diploma to the American veterans of the Second World War who liberated France and, in so doing, changed the history of the 20th century. It is for me a great honor to forward you, one of those glorious veterans, this diploma. To the congratulations of the French authorities, I have the pleasure to add my own."

Participating in the ceremony were Good Shepherd Chaplain Jim Sampson, Fostoria Mayor John Davoli, and members of the Fostoria United Veterans (Frank Kraske, At Allison, Albert Huff, Steve Krassow, Cliff Cockie and Duane Pierce).

Lucy Reiter played the "Star Spangled Banner, on the piano. The award was presented by Tom Evans of the Seneca County Veterans Service Commission.

Bob's award was arranged with the assistance of Congressman Paul Gillmor's office and Tom Gernert of the Veterans Service Commission.

All of his life, Bob has been an admirer of the 82nd Division's commanding officer, Gen. James Gavin. Bob said some of the soldiers used to get into scrapes with the law when they were in town on leave from training. Sometimes guys would get into fights.

Gavin took a forgiving view of his young soldiers when he had to arrange for them to get back to the base after an overly exuberant night of liberty. When the division was to ship out for Europe, Gen. Gavin addressed his men.

Bob said, "He told us, ‘We're going to meet the German army. Then you can fight like hell. This time no one's going to stop you.'"

No one did.

Bob made combat jumps into Italy and the Netherlands. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

On D-Day, Bob landed behind Omaha Beach. He was with the elements of the 82nd Division that captured the tiny French village of St. Mere-Eglise in the early morning.

The Germans counter-attacked with heavy armor. The Americans had only the light weapons they carried on their jump and were pushed out of the village.

Later in the day, it was the 82nd's turn to counter-attack, this time with tank reinforcements from the Normandy landing beaches. They took St. Mere-Eglise once again. This time the Germans didn't get it back.

St. Mere-Eglise is a name little-remembered today, but it was the very first town liberated on D-Day. For four years, the Nazi barbarism lay over Western Europe. On June 6, 1944, the soldiers of the Allied Armies rekindled liberty's flame on the continent.

Bob still thinks about those days of 60 years ago.

"I am proud to be a citizen of the best nation in the world," he said. "I will treasure this as long as I live."


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