By Portage Co. Executive Patty Dreier
This is a Veteran’s Day story that I hope will move you to join me and my husband, Tom, and Mayor Mike Wiza and his wife, Chris, in the spirit of honoring veterans everywhere—especially our local WWII veterans:
Less than an hour from the western most beaches of Normandy in France, a small village named Angoville-au-Plain became known for its significance on and immediately after D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom and I had the great honor of visiting Angoville and meeting its Lord Mayor, Daniel Hamchin, last June during a World War II history tour to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.
Mayor Wiza had given me a dollar bill from one of his two Super Bowl coin toss wins over the past 20 years and asked me to do something special with his dollar while I was in Normandy, because he always wanted to go there.
Mayor Wiza expressed to me that he wanted to be linked to a story there if I found an appropriate way to do that knowing I was about to visit many somber sites and memorials.
This is that story:
On D-Day, two privates who were medics in the 101st Airborne Division, Kenneth J. Moore from California and Robert E. Wright from Ohio, made their parachute landing in a field near Angoville which had been pre-designated as an assembly area. They came upon a 12th century church at a crossroads in the village and set up an aid station inside. They hung a banner with a red cross outside the church.
This banner matched the patch on their sleeves to identify them as medics. Privates Wright and Moore began to gather and triage casualties inside. Using the pews and alters as hospital beds, their job was to stop the bleeding and administer morphine. Each had little more than two weeks of medical training and neither had ever experienced combat before.
Private Wright had the idea that all guns should be left outside the sanctuary—that it would make the aid station safer for everyone. They began to administer aid to Americans as well as Germans and a local child—another effort to try to improve the chances of survival for everyone. Using a wagon he found in the village, Private Moore would later tell the story that he searched the countryside picking up casualties and bringing them to the church-hospital.
One soldier died on the altar.
When Americans could no longer keep their stronghold on the Angoville area—they came to tell Moore and Wright. Each of them looked at the other and made a decision that they would stay and continue to help the wounded in the church. Germans came in and saw they were aiding German soldiers as well as American soldiers and spared their lives.
Mortar shells rocked the church and its windows were blasted out. A shell came through the roof and landed, unexploded on the church floor. One of the medics picked it up and threw it out a church window. Fortunately, it didn’t explode when it hit the ground outside, either.
Lord Mayor Hamchin is quoted about sharing the “dichotomy” of D-Day for soldiers: “They would kill each other in the cemetery and they would heal each other in the church.”
Today, blood still stains the pews. The floor is still cracked where the bomb had landed. Church windows have been replaced to remember D-Day and America’s role in liberating Normandy.
As Tom and I walked through the churchyard and into the sanctuary last June, the idea of the history and significance of this place—a site where two medics tried their best to express peace in the midst of the chaos of war—struck us deeply. We learned that the village of only about 40 inhabitants is struggling to maintain and restore the church and keep up the monuments to these acts of courage—especially as more WWII veterans pass away each day.
That’s when I reached for Mayor Wiza’s dollar in my pocket—and put it in the donation box in the sanctuary along with a donation from Tom and me. That’s when I knew I wanted to ask the Mayor and Chris to join Tom and me in an effort to help raise funds for this extraordinary memorial to our veterans who acted so bravely in their roles to liberate Europe.
Mayor Wiza and I have set up a fund named Normandy Veterans Project fund at the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin, www.cfcwi.org. We are asking you to join us in giving to the fund between Veteran’s Day (November 11th) and Pearl Harbor Day (December 7th). This is a small window of time for a big opportunity to link our two communities and help preserve this site.
After December 7th, we will send the funds to the Angoville-au-Plain village where Lord Mayor Hamchin will receive them and ensure they are used to help restore the medieval church where 80 combatants and a local child were cared for on and after D-Day.
Thank you for your donation to honor these two brave medics and all of our veterans then and now who have made sacrifices for us all.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me or Mayor Wiza. Thank you to all of our veterans here at home and who have gone before us. Our peace is precious. Our gratitude for your service/your loved one’s service runs deep.