It is here, in this small village of Graignes that 182 paratroopers assembled prior to the march on Carentan. The members of the 3/507th were attached to the storied 82d Airborne Division on that infamous day in June 1944. The 507th PIR was the last regiment to jump into the peninsula and flew towards their drop zones in extremely poor weather conditions and intense anti-aircraft fire. The 182 paratroopers who assembled here ended up landing 15 kilometers away from their intended objective. It was the steeple atop what remains of this church that drew the Paratroopers to Graignes. The majority of these men came from the 3/507th, but there were also members of the 101st Airborne who were just as equally ill-placed.
On June 7th, the ranking officer Major Johnston met with the Mayor, Alphonse Voydie, and the two attendant priests. He requested assistance for retrieving supply bundles, gathering other resources, and even using the church as a makeshift aid station and headquarters. The Mayor and priests strongly agreed but advised MAJ Johnston that they would seek the consensus from the village given the potential of reprisal from German forces when American forces departed the village. It was reported that the entire village attended that vote here at the church, and unanimously and boldly agreed to assist the ill dropped paratroopers. Threats of Gestapo presence, nor the threat of death for those who conspired with the men of the 507th and 101st deterred these brave villagers. Villagers of all ages, including children were key in enabling the allied war effort.
However, after increased German attacks via waves of Infantry, precise artillery and mortar fire, and reconnaissance of the feared 17th SS Panzer Division the village slowly fell into the hands of the German attackers. Despite losing key weapons systems, leadership, and the mounting wounded in action the American Paratroopers, nor the villagers in support waivered in their efforts. They collectively fought ferociously until they could no longer prevent the fall of the village… It was at this point that the story of Graignes and its heroic people took a tragic turn. SS soldiers took the wounded Paratroopers, attending medics, and a local doctor to the edge of the village and executed them in two groups. Separately, they marched the two priests into the rectory and summarily executed them, and then ordered that the church be burned.
44 villagers were then ruthlessly interrogated… Despite a night’s worth of threats, physical abuse, and the threat of death not a single villager cooperated with the Germans. In response to these valiant villagers, the German commander ordered that the village be burned. 66 homes, a school, the local café, and what remained of the church were destroyed. Many of the villagers who survived the onslaught were left without shelter or supplies. Despite this, their support for the remaining American forces in the area remained steadfast.
The people of Graignes not only assisted the 3/507th and 101st paratroopers but also enabled the successful seizure of Carentan by the 101st Airborne. It was the defense of Graignes that prevented the 17th SS Panzer and other German forces from reinforcing elements in and around Carentan. Fate brought these villagers and Paratroopers together, and the shared traumatic events of the battle of Graignes forever forged a bond between the two parties that were previously strangers to one another. In all 32 paratroopers and 44 civilians lost their lives here, and it is this memorial and those standing here today and for years to come, that will continue to honor their ultimate sacrifice.
We shall never forget those whom we lost here from 10-11 June 1944, as their actions were a testament to not only the horrors that came to bear during the battle against tyranny and oppression here in Europe but also the brotherhood, fellowship and willingness to face insurmountable odds in the face of death shared by both Paratrooper and civilian. It was these qualities, matched with the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere that enabled our victory against evil.
About the Author:
CPT Darren M. Cinatl, current 82nd Airborne Paratrooper assigned to 2-504 PIR, 1st Brigade Combat Team. He formerly Commanded the United States Army Jumpmaster and Pathfinder Schools while serving as the HHC Commander for the 1-507th PIR, U.S. Army Airborne School from 2017-2018. He frequently returns to Normandy and other WWII battle locations to jump historic drop zones from C-47 Skytrains, honor our veterans and preserve our history.