D-Day 68 years later; Newnan's Cook back in Normandy

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World War II veteran Gene Cook, left, visits with a fellow veteran at one of the Newnan High Vet Connect events at Jackson-Pless Armory in Newnan. Cook is in France for D-Day remembrances this week.

By ALEX MCRAE
alex@newnan.com
Today, millions around the world will commemorate the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the June 6, 1944, amphibious assault on the shores of France that began the Allied advance that led to the end of World War II in Europe.
Thousands will pay somber remembrance along the French coast, where the battles were fought and thousands died. Newnan’s Gene Cook will be among them. But as he tours the historic sites and battle markers and row upon row of American graves, Cook is among the few that remember what Normandy looked like all those years ago.
He saw it firsthand as he floated from the skies hanging from a parachute as part of the American airborne assault that dropped behind enemy lines in the predawn hours before the beach landings began.
Cook, a member of the 506th Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles,” lived to tell about that day in Normandy and the months of brutal, bloody fighting in Europe that followed before German forces surrendered in May 1945.
Cook has returned many times to Normandy, both as a visitor and honored guest of the country he helped liberate. In 1994, he slipped on his parachute harness and dropped on Normandy one more time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Cook says he has enjoyed every one of his visits.

“I’ve always loved going back there,” he says. “It reminds me of what great sacrifices so many made to keep this country great and free.”

Before he left, Cook’s schedule was overflowing with invitations to attend special commemorative events. He says it’s the least he can do to honor the 2,919 men of the 101st Airborne who gave their lives during the struggle.

On Friday, Cook was scheduled to be on the drop zone at Heisville where most of 101st landed. A group of jumpers he knows were jumping from a WW2 C-47 taking off from England at 4 p.m.

Cook was a guest of honor at activities at Angoville on Saturday. The ceremony centered around a church that served as the first aid station for Cook’s unit after they landed. The pews still bear the stains of American soldiers’ blood. Cook was to have a tour guide take him around Angoville, Les Druries and Bass Addeville on the way to Ste. Come du Mont. Then he was expected to travel to the main ceremony at Carenton to celebrate that village’s liberation by Cook’s troops.

Sunday’s activities included a mass and honorary dinner at another liberated town, Ste. Mere Eglise, as well as a parachute drop by U.S. troops at La Fiere.

On Monday, Cook was expected to be on hand to dedicate a new window at a Cuquigny chapel designed by a man from Arizona scheduled to be traveling with Cook. He then planned to return to Carenton to revisit battle sites before being a guest at a government dinner at Chateau Isle.

On Tuesday, Cook was scheduled to travel to St. Laurent Cemetery and Omaha Beach. At 4 p.m. he was to be a guest of honor at the dedication of an addition to the museum at Ste. Mere Eglise. At 5 p.m., the town of St. Mere Eglise was expected to hold a final ceremony at Signal Zero, where the airborne war started.

Today, the anniversary of D-Day, Cook is scheduled to travel to a ceremony at Heisville honoring Gen. Daniel Pratt, who was killed in a glider crash on D-Day. Then it’s on to Ravenoville to open a new memorial park honoring troops who took the town at 8 a.m. on Dec. 6, 1944, including Cook.

Each of the events has special significance for Cook.

“I am doing this primarily to honor, and make sure the citizens know and remember, those that made that initial assault,” Cook said before his departure for France.

“They suffered and gave all that was demanded to bring peace to the world at that time. I feel the least I can do is be there.”



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