“I began to cry. Not out of sorrow for myself, nor because of my wounds, but at the great joy that I felt at being back on French soil.” Commando Robert Piauge, June 6, 1944
Grieving as we are for our fellow image-bearers in France, I was reminded of this D-Day story that so captures the French spirit.
At the last minute, the commander of the group, Lt. Col. Robert Dawson, Royal Marine Commandos, waved the Frenchmen forward so that they would be the first to set foot on shore.
One of those Frenchmen was Pvt. Robert Piauge, twenty-four years old, whose mother lived in Ouistreham. He was on LCI 523, commanded by Sub-Lt. John Berry, which had got hung up on a beach obstacle. Piauge and the other commando jumped into the sea, so impatient were they to get back to France. Piauge landed in chest-deep waters. He waded ashore, the third Frenchman to arrive.
Mortars were exploding around him, some heavy shells coming down, a bit of small-arms fire, a lot of noise. Piauge made it to shore and got about ten meters across the beach when a mortar exploded beside him, riddling him with shrapnel (he still carries twenty-two pieces of steel in his body today). His best friend, next to him, was killed by the same mortar. A British medic examined Piauge’s wounds, pronounced him “fini,” gave him a shot of morphine, and moved on to treat men who could be saved.
Piauge thought of his mother, who had protested tearfully against his joining the French army in 1939, as her husband had died as a result of World War I wounds. Then he thought of France, and “I began to cry. Not out of sorrow for myself, nor because of my wounds, but at the great joy that I felt at being back on French soil.” He passed out.
Piauge was picked up by a medic, carried out to a hospital ship by an LCI, treated for his wounds, and eventually recovered in a hospital in England. He lives today in a seaside apartment in Ouistreham. From his living-room window he can look out at the spot where he landed. (Stephen Ambrose, D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, 553-554).