Md. Gi Helped Affix The Tricolor To Liberated Paris' Eiffel Tower

BACK STORY

April 26, 2009|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN

It had been four long years and 73 days since the French tricolor was lowered from the Eiffel Tower on June 13, 1940.

That was the day German forces marched into the City of Light.

Liberation followed by jubilation finally came on Aug. 25, 1944, when American forces and the French 2nd Armored Division entered Paris, forcing Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz to surrender.

"I had thought that for me there would never again be any elation in war. But I had reckoned without the liberation of Paris," wrote Ernie Pyle, the Scripps-Howard war correspondent, who rode with the American troops.

Sun war correspondent Lee McCardell was also an eyewitness to the Parisians who went wild at the sight of the Allied tanks, half-tracks, jeeps and soldiers that poured into the city. "Tears are running down many a Parisian's cheek," he wrote. "Tears ran down my own once or twice, so genuine and unrestrained was the city's greeting."

Sharing in the unfettered joy was a 24-year-old GI from Reisterstown, Wyman "Merle" Rogers, a corporal in the 29th Division's 35th Signal Construction Battalion, who had landed at Omaha Beach June 6, 1944, and fought all the way to Paris with his unit.

On liberation day, Rogers and three members of his unit were laying wire near the Eiffel Tower when they were approached by a colonel who had been assigned the task of mounting the French tricolor atop it.

"Apparently, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, commander of the Free French Forces, had demanded that the flag be flown as a visible symbol of a liberated Paris," wrote Rogers' daughter and son-in-law, Carol and Gary Zimmerman of Phoenix, Baltimore County, in an unpublished account.

After the colonel had assembled a detail of six other American GIs, they were led to the back of a truck, where they were shown a "very large and somewhat crudely made flag," the Zimmermans wrote.

It was three hours before the soldiers were able to reach the 80-foot-long radio antenna."This was a radio antenna, not a flagpole, so the next problem the group faced was how to attach a 300-pound flag to the mast in a 40 mph wind," they wrote. "Corp. Rogers used his climbing skills to secure one corner of the flag to an iron flange near the top of the mast, while the crew spent another three hours drilling holes and bolting the rest of the flag to the antenna."

"Pictures of this flag flying from the tower made the front page of newspapers around the world."

In 1946 Rogers returned to civilian life, married his beloved Bernie, and they had two children. He went to work for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. as a lineman, worked his way up to supervisor and later was a member of the company's audit staff. He retired in the late 1980s.

In 1998, Rogers - who was joined by his son, Ron Rogers, a newspaperman, and son-in-law Gary, a retired McCormick & Co. vice president - went to Europe to retrace his wartime path from Normandy to Germany.

In Paris, they visited the Eiffel Tower, the first time for Rogers since 1944.

"We went up all the steps, but the third floor was off limits," his son-in-law said. "We went to the manager and asked if we could go all the way to the top but he told us we couldn't do that."

Ron Rogers, who lives in Landisville, Pa., and is an editor at The Washington Times, said that he, like his sister, had to ask his father about his wartime experiences when he was growing up.

"He was a very shy guy, and I remember when we were in the Eiffel Tower and the manager heard his story, he wanted to give him a special tour," he said. "Dad was a very modest man and declined. I remember him saying, 'Too much has been made of this.' "

Merle Rogers died last month at age 89.

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