We were on top of the world Saturday afternoon in the high hills of les Monts de Lacaune to the east of Lautrec–waiting with an expectant crowd…
…for four French paratroopers to fall from the sky.
Both the crowd on the ground and the “angels” about to descend, were–perhaps unknowingly–re-enacting events that happened here, in an occupied wartime France, 70 years ago.
In early August 1944 the Allies organized several parachute missions to deliver weapons, supplies and soldiers to the resistance fighters in the Tarn. The German occupation forces got wind of one of these midnight drops and on the night of August 8th, they attacked the drop zone killing seven young maquis fighters. Their sacrifice was being remembered and honored at Saturday’s event.
In 1944 Guy de Rouville (below) was commander of the Maquis of Vabre–the Resistance group in charge of the secret drop zone. He was 29 years old.
At 99 his memory of these events is remarkable and his enthusiasm to communicate it, undiminished.
Guy and his wife, Odile (96), still live in the hill village of Vabre, where they once welcomed a young English major and two French officers from the Jedburgh mission who had parachuted onto this hillside on the night of the 8th August 1944.
The previous night they had taken in an American soldier who had broken his leg landing in the same drop zone with 14 comrades. They were an OSS commando unit sent from a base in North Africa to support local partisans and disrupt the German supply lines before the still little-known southern D-Day landings near St. Tropez on 15th August 1944.
All the parachute drops, made under cover of darkness and in a remote place, put the local population in peril on a day to day basis from the Nazi occupation forces.
The drop zone is on the opposite side of the valley from Vabre near the village of Viane.
Viane is en fete this weekend and murmurs were heard about the commemoration stealing its thunder.
Small murmerings–most of the crowd, like us, were looking forward to the parachute jump by the 8th RPIM (8e régiment de parachutistes d’infanterie de marine) based in nearby Castres.
We were not disappointed.
Despite an unpredictable wind making it more difficult…
…three hit the orange target…
…and the fourth was within twenty feet or so.
Meredith is an American porte drapeau, carrying the American flag at ceremonies of remembrance in the region.
It was at one of these ceremonies where she heard the story of the American OSS team’s landing and their vital contribution to the liberation of the south Tarn two weeks after their arrival.
She received a Fulbright grant to document the history of that mission, interviewing most of the surviving members of the maquis group involved with the OSS mission. Two of the OSS men were killed in action in the Tarn. Their sacrifice and the memory of their deeds are honored by French veterans every year here–sometimes in the presence of American family members who come to see where their loved ones served.
Unlike the French paratroopers we watched Saturday, the OSS and the Jedburgh teams parachuted at night, laden with heavy equipment, into occupied France–with little idea what awaited them.
Their courage has never been forgotten here.