June 6, 1944 was a day that will forever be remembered. Known as D-DAY, it was the date that began the liberation of German-occupied France from Nazi control during the second World War. It’s also known as the invasion of Normandy, and it was truly an event that went against all odds of success. With this being the 75th anniversary year of the event, it’s estimated that only 500,000 of the more than 16 million Americans who served during World War II are still living, and approximately only 1,000 are D-DAY veterans. If you were watching any type of news coverage, you will see that many of them are in their mid to late 90’s. One of the most heart warming stories that was shared in the news was the 97 year old paratrooper Tom Rice, who did a tandem jump to commemorate the past. Seventy-five years ago, he was among the 18,000 paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines. Another D-Day paratrooper’s story was recently shared with me, and I requested permission from the author, Ellen Wilbur, to share her story about her father, Dr. Robert Franco. She graciously allowed us to share it here.
By Ellen Wilbur, D-DAY:
Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France, during WWII, the day that changed the world, broke Hitler’s grip on Europe and history…
As many of you know, my dad was a surgeon in the 82nd Airborne, is one of three Army surgeons in history to have made four major combat jumps. He jumped into Sicily, Italy, Holland, and Normandy. He triaged wounded soldiers in the middle of battles, forced to make decisions on who would receive antibiotics and care, and who would receive only morphine. He established a “hospital” at Ste Mere Eglise, the small French village which was the first to be liberated during the D-Day invasion, where he tended to and operated on wounded soldiers. You can see a picture of him with his regiment in the museum that is there. He marched and jumped and cared for wounded and dying men and spent 2 1/2 years of that war in Europe (his two brothers were in the South Pacific during the war).
Dad received the Silver Star for valor in combat (3rd highest military decoration), the Soldier’s Medal for heroism, and two Purple Hearts (Purple Heart with Clusters).
Dad passed away in August, 2013, at a wonderful 99 1/2 years old! To the end, he read history books and medical journals. He attended annual reunions with the 82nd Airborne and his regiment where, each year, the number of attendees dwindles. He was honored to be invited to stay with the Mayor of Ste Mere Eglise at the 50th D-Day anniversary and lay down the first wreath at that ceremony.
The men of this war were not trained career military men. They were civilians stepping up to do what was needed to knock down a powerful fascist nut who was determined to conquer the world, at the cost and torture of millions of people.
PLEASE take a moment to think about, honor, and appreciate those who gave so much to protect our country and the world, all those who are still with us, and those who didn’t make it home. Thank you.
Thank you Ellen for sharing and for allowing us to get to know more about a true American hero.