Léon Gautier, the Courageous French Commando Who Landed at Normandy, Passes Away at 100

Léon Gautier, the final surviving member of an elite French unit that joined U.S. and different Allied forces within the D-Day invasion to wrest Normandy from Nazi management, died July 3 at 100.

The loss of life was introduced by Romain Bail, the mayor of Ouistreham, an English Channel coastal neighborhood the place Allies landed on June 6, 1944, and the place Mr. Gautier lived out his last a long time. He had been hospitalized for the previous week with lung hassle, Bail mentioned.

Mr. Gautier met with President Emmanuel Macron as a part of commemorations for the 79th anniversary of D-Day final month. He was additionally an essential voice of reminiscence of World Warfare II, and of warning.

“The youthful generations should be informed, they should know,” Mr. Gautier informed the Related Press in 2019. “Warfare is ugly. Warfare is distress, distress in all places.”

He devoted a lot of his life after the conflict ensuring that classes from the conflict are usually not forgotten by giving interviews, participating in commemorations and serving to put collectively the museum in Ouistreham that commemorates the French commandos who helped liberate Normandy.

Mr. Gautier was born on Oct. 27, 1922, within the Brittany village Fougeres. He joined the French navy in 1940 and, when France fell in June that 12 months to the Nazis, he went to England and joined the federal government in exile of French Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

On D-Day, Mr. Gautier and his comrades within the Kieffer Commando unit have been among the many first waves of Allied troops to storm the closely defended seashores of Nazi-occupied northern France, starting the liberation of western Europe.

Within the large invasion power made up largely of American, British and Canadian troopers, French Capt. Philippe Kieffer’s commandos ensured that France had feats to be happy with, too, after the dishonor of its Nazi occupation, when some selected to collaborate with Adolf Hitler’s forces.

They got here ashore carrying 4 days’ price of rations and ammunition and sprinted up the seaside with their heavy sacks.

The commandos spent 78 days straight on the entrance traces, in ever-dwindling numbers. Of the 177 who waded ashore on the morning of June 6, simply two dozen escaped loss of life or harm, Mr. Gautier amongst them.

Their preliminary goal was a closely fortified bunker. Though the strongpoint was just some miles away, it took them 4 hours of combating to get there and take it. On the seaside, they lower by barbed wire underneath a hail of bullets.

He later injured his left ankle leaping off a prepare and was compelled to take a seat out a lot of the remainder of the conflict. His ankle remained painfully swollen for the remainder of his lengthy life.

After the conflict, Mr. Gautier labored constructing automobile our bodies after which coaching mechanics, dwelling in England, Nigeria and Cameroon earlier than returning to France.

Mr. Gautier mentioned he didn’t like speaking in regards to the conflict: “The older you get, you suppose that possibly you killed a father, made a widow of a girl. … It’s not straightforward to reside with.”

However his testimonies to varsities have been a vital a part of Normandy’s efforts to recollect the conflict. He additionally constructed a detailed friendship with a former German soldier who settled in Normandy, Johannes Borner, and the 2 typically spoke collectively in regards to the horrors they noticed.

Mr. Gautier met his spouse, Dorothy Banks, when he was stationed in England and so they have been married for greater than 70 years till her loss of life in 2016. Survivors embrace a great-great-grandson, born on June 6, 2017 — precisely 73 years after D-Day.

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