D-Day has special meaning this year
by Alex McRae
June 6, 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. Festivities celebrating the offensive that led to the defeat of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe will be bigger than usual.
Nowhere is D-Day – as the event is widely known – more joyously remembered than in the small towns and villages of northern France where Allied soldiers first came ashore. Among them is Ravenoville, France, which was liberated just hours after members of the U.S. Army’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division parachuted onto French soil and took the town after a fierce battle.
One of the soldiers who liberated Ravenoville was longtime Newnan resident Gene Cook. In the years after the war, Cook wrote books and poems about his wartime exploits and returned to France several times to commemorate the D-Day event. His visits always included a stop in Ravenoville, where Cook was friends with many of the locals.
Cook’s last visit was in June 2012, when he returned to Ravenoville to participate in the dedication of a new monument honoring Cook and his fellow soldiers.
The monument, called the Eternal Heroes’ Memorial, currently features three stone walls bearing plaques etched with the names of the men who fought – and died – in Ravenoville. The stone walls are part of a larger memorial being constructed by David Ashe, a native of Ireland who moved to Ravenoville four years ago. Once Ashe realized the historical significance of Ravenoville's D-Day history, he decided to honor the men who fought there with a permanent memorial.
Dozens of survivors and their relatives have returned to Ravenoville to visit the memorial. Cook was among them, and on his last visit, he signed his name on the wall of Ashe’s living room, as have other survivors of the battle.
Cook died earlier this year, but will – along with other members of the 506th PIR – be remembered at special ceremonies at the Ravenoville memorial on June 5. The Ravenoville service is held a day before larger June 6 D-Day events so visitors are able to attend both.
Cook’s wartime exploits were chronicled in several stories published in The Newnan Times-Herald over the years. His story was included in “Coweta’s Greatest Generation,” a compilation of memoirs of living Coweta County World War II veterans published by the Times-Herald.
When Times-Herald columnist Alex McRae and his wife, Angela, planned a trip to Normandy for May 2014, Times-Herald management donated a copy of “Coweta’s Greatest Generation” to be taken to France and presented to David Ashe in memory of Gene Cook.
On May 7, Ashe gave the McRaes a tour of the Normandy area, including a stop at several places in Ravenoville where Cook had fought. Ashe was presented with a copy of the book and said it would become part of the permanent collection at the Ravenoville memorial.