With a long history that goes back well beyond the Middle Ages, the city of Carentan, due to its unique geographical location in the heart of the marshes of the lower Cotentin, was closely involved in the bloody battles that ensured the success of the American landings in Normandy in June 1944. By chance of history, it was a brand new unit of the American Army, a pioneer and elitist branch, that of the parachutists who came from the sky to surprise the Nazi occupiers, which liberated the city after 5 days of fierce fighting. The 101st Airborne Division, created only two years earlier, was composed exclusively of volunteers, young guys barely 20 years old from all the states of the Union. Of their own free will, they had agreed to put their lives on hold to save the world from a barbarism called Nazism. Hundreds of them had to pay a high price to give Carentan, Normandy and France its freedom. Many of them have been sleeping in the cemeteries of Normandy ever since. The others were able to re-embark after the war to resume their lives in America. Carentan has not forgotten either the sacrifices or the friendship linked from the very first hours of the liberation with the sons of Uncle Sam. The German occupier had barely been driven out when the Norman and American authorities set to work, under the impetus of the indefatigable Mayor Albert Joret, supported by his new friend, the provisional American governor of the liberated territories, attached to the 101st Airborne, Major Maginnis, to rebuild Carentan and provide it with water, electricity and food. These two men found in Max Taylor, the commanding general of the 101st, an unfailing support. A distinguished linguist and Francophile, Taylor spoke French to the people of Carentan who gathered on June 20, 1944 at Place de la République for the second of three medal ceremonies organized to honor the heroes of Carentan. On June 15, the city had just been cleared of the last snipers and Taylor honored his division by awarding the Silver Star to its four regimental commanders. Already, the children of Carentan were flocking in their Sunday best, ribbons in their hair and bouquets in their hands to thank their liberators. Jean Le Poitevin, Sylviane Lefevre and Danielle Laisney, under the watchful eye of Mrs. Haugard and Mrs. Truffaut, were not going to miss any of these festive gatherings with GI’s who were quick to fraternize and to stuff the children’s pockets with candy and this curious paste called “gum”. On June 23, in the middle of the ceremony, two German shells fell on the square, wounding 19 civilians and killing 5, including little Danielle, only 4 years old. These memories, this Norman-American friendship, this respectful affection towards the prestigious 101st Airborne Division will find in the representation cast in bronze of the historical photo of the 4 colonels decorated by Taylor, under the eyes of little Danièle Laisney, the strength of the symbol, the power of the emotion to cross the times with a simple message of peace, humanity and fraternity
The statue of the 4 colonels is destined to become a marker, a reference point for the many visitors who come every year from all over the world to remember and honor the heroes of the liberation of Normandy, but also of France and Europe.
Normandy, and Villedieu les Poeles in La Manche have world-renowned goldsmiths in the art of casting. Cornille-Havard de Villedieu les Poêles are the creators and founders of impressive bronze creations, statues but also bells, including those of the prestigious Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.
It is to these foundry artists that the task was entrusted to realize at scale 1, life-size, and with the greatest realism, the statue of this immortal scene showing General Taylor decorating his four colonels standing at attention Place de la République on June 15, 1944.
The task is immense, and the mission sacred.
It requires a substantial outlay, 350,000 Euros, which the Carentan community would not be able to afford.
This is why an appeal for donations and patronage is launched, via social networks, to raise the sum allowing the realization not of an umpteenth statue, but a realistic testimony, accessible and understandable to the greatest number, a perfect symbol of the commitment of the 101st Airborne for the freedom of Carentan, Normandy, France.
On June 13, 1944, after 4 days of bloody fighting, supported by the armored vehicles of the 2nd Armored Division, the exhausted paratroopers of the 101st Airborne definitively pushed back the Nazi pretensions of the Fallschirmjaeger and the SS on Carentan. Carentan was broken, Carentan was martyred, but Carentan was liberated. On June 15, Carentan was able to witness the first taking up of arms, a pretext for the first medal ceremony on the Place de la République, which still bore the scars of the bombing. General Maxwell D Taylor, commander of the Screaming Eagles, thanked and celebrated the very first feat of arms of his young division by awarding the Silver Star to the four commanders of the 4 regiments that made up the 101st, Lieutenant Colonel John Michaelis, Commanding Officer of the 502nd Parachute Infantry, Colonel Howard R Johnson, Co of the 501st PIR, Colonel Robert F Sink, CO of the 506th PIR, and Joseph Harper, CO of the 327th/401st Glider Infantry Regiment. The image would travel around the world and symbolize the sacrifices of the division to liberate Carentan.
These four colonels would have varied fates within the glorious 101st. John Michaelis was seriously wounded in the Netherlands in September 1944. Howard Johnson died at the head of his beloved Geronimos in the Netherlands in early October 1944. Robert Sink, a pioneer paratrooper, and Bud Harper survived the conflict and led their respective regiments to Berchtesgaden.
Until the end of July 1944, death was to strike the inhabitants of Carentan in all its forms. A festive moment, the medal ceremony organized on June 23 at the Place de la République turned into a nightmare. Two German shells fell on the square crowded with soldiers and civilians. The GIs gathered, flattened on the ground. The civilians do not see the blow coming. Five were killed, including little Danielle Laisney and Alain Leroux. 19 other civilians were wounded.
In honor of these men and the soldiers they commanded, several hundred of whom fell for the liberation of the city, Carentan wishes to materialize and concretize the memory of heroes who cannot be forgotten.