by Les Hughes
© by author 2014
551st had been the first American unit to enter Draguignan,
and its veterans felt that they had liberated the city. But when the
people of Draguignan raised a memorial to the town’s liberation, the only
American unit cited in the memorial’s inscription was the 517th
PRCT, a unit that had been part of Operation DRAGOON but that had not
participated in the liberation of Draguignan. Morgan (p. 214)
illustrates the memorial and translates its inscription as: “It is
here on 16 August 1944 at 2230 hours that the 517th Airborne
unit of the American Army made contact with the Draguignan resistance,
and the city was liberated.” Morgan notes the erroneous citation, and
wonders aloud how it was that the 517th and not the 551st
is cited. But in the generous spirit that characterized Morgan and the
battalion’s veterans, he added: “Nevertheless, it is a fine memorial
and a tribute to the people who put it there.”
What I believe is a more accurate translation of the monument’s inscription shifts the honor of liberating the city to the Resistance: Here on 16 August at 2230 hours the 517th Airborne Company of the American Army made contact with the Draguignan Resistance who had liberated the city. The inscription honors, as it should, years of resistance to the Nazi occupiers, at great personal risk to themselves and their families, by the citizens of Draguignon and of France, while at the same time honoring the Americans who brought the years of resistance to fruition. But one can understand how the 551st veterans felt: once again, history had relegated the battalion’s contributions to obscurity.
That has been remedied. Today, the memorial bears a different inscription: This is where, on 16 August 1944 at 2230 hours, the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion of the American Army made contact with the Draguignan Resistance, and with it liberated the city. To borrow Dan Morgan’s words: It is a fine memorial: a tribute to the people who put it there, and to the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.
Then and now: The memorial commemorating the liberation of the liberation of Draguignan.
Dan (1984). The Left Corner of My
Heart. Wauconda, WA: Alder Enterprises.