Aging U.S. fliers return to site of wartime triumph

Town of Remy, France, celebrates donation of stained glass for church

July 30, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

REMY, France - The old warriors have come back, to remember the most daring exploits of their gallant youth and to honor a town forever linked to them.

Veterans of the U.S. 383rd Fighter Squadron, now in their 70s and 80s, gathered in Remy yesterday along with family members and French townspeople to dedicate seven new stained-glass windows for the town's 13th-century Church of St. Denis.

The 19th-century windows that formerly graced the church were blown out Aug. 2, 1944, when the 383rd pilots in their P-51 Mustangs strafed a camouflaged Nazi train carrying nitroglycerin for rocket warheads.

The resulting explosion blew the roofs off nearly every house in the village and demolished the train as well as the train station where the Germans had tried to hide it. Only one Remy civilian was killed; about 400 Nazi soldiers died.

The veterans raised $200,000, in their own funds and public contributions that poured in from across the United States, to buy new stained-glass windows after they learned a few years ago that the village had been able to afford only plate glass replacements.

The grateful citizens of Remy organized daylong festivities in honor of their U.S. benefactors, starting with a military parade. Also on the program were the dedication of the windows, a military band concert, two wine receptions, the illumination of the windows last night and fireworks.

About 100 Americans made the trip here, and Remy's streets were festooned with U.S., French and European Union flags in welcome.

Remy, a village in 1944 but a town of several thousand people today, is six miles west of Compiegne, which has its own place in history.

It was in Compiegne that Marshal Foch took the German surrender in a rail car in 1918, ending World War I. On the same spot Adolf Hitler forced the French to sign a humiliating surrender in 1940.

The U.S. veterans were in Remy not merely to dedicate the windows but to honor one of their own who did not survive the attack on the German train. The explosion of the train ripped the tail off the plane flown by Lt. Houston Lee Braly of Brady, Texas, and he died as his aircraft crashed into the village.

A Houston Lee Braly Crossroads memorial plaque in Remy was put up by the village several years ago. His death brought out heroism in the local populace.

The villagers pulled his body from the wrecked aircraft and hid it from the Germans. They covered the body with flowers they brought from their gardens.

Furious German officers ordered that no more flowers be placed near his remains. But the villagers defied Nazi threats by piling his grave site high with flowers. Braly's remains later were reburied in his hometown.

Inside the Church of St. Denis is a new memorial to Braly, a Mustang propeller brought by members of the 383rd to be unveiled at the dedication service.

The propeller bears an inscription in French and English that recalls the role played by Remy people after his death.

"The good and heroic people of Remy, ignoring threats of reprisal, protected his body from the enemy and buried him with honor and reverence," the inscription reads. It is signed: Officers and men of the 383rd Fighter Squadron.

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