The first U.S. soldier to die in Europe

Loustalot_GraveKilled in the disastrous raid on Dieppe, France, Edward Loustalot was the first American solder to die in Europe in World War II.

By George Morris

The cross at Edward V. Loustalot’s grave is all but identical to the tens of thousands of markers that spread across American military cemeteries in Europe. Like the others, row on row, it communicates with classic military brevity: name, rank, unit, place of birth, date of death.

Only that last piece of information tells of his historical significance.

When he died, the United States had fought in World War II for less than nine months. Already, American military personnel had been killed in the Pacific, just the first of multitudes who would die there, in Asia, in Africa and, ultimately, in Europe.

For the foot soldiers, Europe’s toll came last, the carnage delayed until invasions of Italy in 1943 and Normandy in 1944. But, little remembered amidst the more epic battles of the war, a small band of Americans was part of a force that landed at the French coastal resort of Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942.

On that day, Loustalot, a Franklin, Louisiana native, became the first American soldier to die on European soil in World War II.

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‘Who more than self their country loved’

peo LeonStandifer bf 040.jpg
Leon Standifer holds the French Legion of Honor media he was awarded on April 26, 2012, in New Orleans (Photo by Bill Feig, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

The headstones are there by the thousands, row on row. Throughout Western Europe, American dead from two world wars are at rest, many near the epic battlefields where they lost their lives.

Fifty years after he lost his dear wartime comrade, Leon Standifer didn’t go to any of those. Rather, he showed up in a tiny town in a corner of France where little real action took place. But even there, men of courage stood up.

And, in the case of Dale Proctor, fell. Standifer couldn’t let that be forgotten.

So, far from the grand ceremonies that marked other half-century remembrances, Standifer came to a country road outside Redene, a small Brittany town, where about 60 persons gathered to celebrate their liberation from Nazi Germany. Most who attended had lived through the occupation. Few, however, knew the man they specifically honored that day.

Standifer did.

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A “Lucky Bastard”

Rex Shearer... 10/11/04
Rex Shearer, from Baton Rouge, was an engineer/top turret gunner on a B-17 crew during WWII and was awarded a “Lucky Bastards Club” certificate after surviving the required missions and being sent home. (Photo by Patrick Dennis, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

Call a man a “lucky bastard” and you’re asking for a punch in the nose. But not from Rex Shearer.

When the B-17 named “Blythe Spirit” touched down at Rattlesden, England, in early February 1945, Shearer and the rest of the nine-man crew joined the elite ranks of those who completed all their bombing missions over Europe.

They called it the “Lucky Bastards Club.” The name was appropriate.

“We were fortunate,” said Shearer, a Kansas native and Baton Rouge resident since 1965.

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The first men on Utah Beach

D-Day, Utah, soldiers ashoreSoldiers come ashore on Utah Beach on D-Day (National Archives)

By George Morris

In the dim but rising light of about 6:30 a.m., Leonce Haydel, of Gramercy, Louisiana, became one of the first Allied soldiers to step on the French beach. He was not expected to return.

“It was a suicide mission,” Haydel said. “What they sent us in on, we weren’t supposed to survive at all.”

If German Gen. Erwin Rommel had his way, that’s how it would have worked out.

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The clock ticks down to D-Day

D-Day, ready to board ships at Weymouth
Soldiers march toward the ships they’ll board for the Normandy Invasion. (National Archives)

By George Morris

They all knew it was coming. It was the reason they were in Great Britain, training for the great invasion of Western Europe. On April 6, all leave had been cancelled for the invasion troops. It was getting closer. But when would it be?

Nobody knew. Even as the towns, woods and roads of southern England filled with more and more men and machines, many of the troops had no inkling of how close the invasion was.

“We were one unit in that town, and we were not allowed to go just any place we wanted to,” said Mike Simpson, a medic with the 4th Infantry Division. “So, we didn’t know the magnitude of what was going on.”

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Gen. George Patton through the eyes of his aide

Stillman poses for portrait... 04/04/98
Retired Col. Richard Stallman (Photo by Jeff Adkins, used by permission of The Advocate newspaper)

By George Morris

When he got the idea to write a book on Gen. George S. Patton Jr., former University of New Orleans professor Richard Stillman received some honest, if indelicate, encouragement.

“As my younger son put it so well, we’re a fading group,” Stillman said.

Certainly, few alive today worked so closely with the famed World War II general — and Patton himself was an original.

So, in 1998, Stillman, then 81, wrote “General Patton’s Timeless Leadership Principles,” a work that is part biography, part self-help book and all the culmination of Stillman’s two-fold career. After retiring from the Army as a colonel in 1965, Stillman became a management professor at UNO, retiring in 1982. Stillman died in 2008.

“This was a great American hero,” Stillman said. “I consider him perhaps the most outstanding army commander that our country, and perhaps any country, has ever produced.”

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Building Patton’s bridges

Charles Hair... 04/11/02
Charles Hair (Photo by Travis Sprawling, published April 24, 2002, used by permission of The Advocate.)

By George Morris

In almost a quarter-century as city engineer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Charles Hair Jr. was responsible for a lot of bridges. But no one was shooting at him when they were being built.

Hair wasn’t always so fortunate as commander of the 3rd Army’s 88th Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion. His outfit made 15 river crossings as Gen. George S. Patton Jr. led 3rd Army through France, Luxembourg and on into Germany.

The 88th made three crossings of the Seine, five of the Moselle (in three countries) and three of the Main. They never had to make the same crossing twice.

“To be a good soldier, you’ve got to be lucky,” Hair said in 2002. “We went through that whole thing without any severe times, because when Patton crossed a river, he stayed. If he’d gotten thrown back, we would have been lost.”

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