One of my final and favorite memories from the South of France took place last Sunday with the Quilicis, a local family who graciously shared their home and hospitality with me and another SMU student as our trip came to a close. The Quilicis took us by car down the winding coast to St. Raphael for a day of relaxation, bazaar shopping, and delicious ice cream. But more important than relaxation was the opportunity to see the beaches of Dramont where the U.S. 36th Infantry Division landed on August 15 of 1944.
My paternal grandfather was around my age when he was drafted into the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor in 1941. A Chicago native, he was ironically placed in the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division after a year of training stateside. After fighting for a year in Italy in some of the worst battles of the war, his unit landed in Southern France to continue the liberation campaign in the European Theatre, eventually being awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
The beach was sunny and fresh at mid-day on that Saturday, alive with picnickers, sunbathers, and vibrant musicians. Nevertheless, it was quieting to see the beaches and the monuments knowing that my grandfather had arrived in the same place almost 65 years ago with a very different objective. Whereas my goals in France included study, relaxation, and cultural interaction, his top priority was staying alive.
The parking lot above the beaches has several monuments and one of the U.S. boats used in the debarquement. According to locals, a celebration is held every year on the 15th of August to commemorate the town’s liberation.
Over this defended beach the men of the 36th U.S. Infantry Division stormed ashore 15 August 1944. Together with their French allies they began here the drive that took them across France, through Germany and into Austria, to the final destruction of the German armies and the Nazi regime.
C’est sur cette plage opiniatrement defendue que, le 15 aout 1944, debarquerent en force les hommes de la 36e Division d’infanterie americaine. C’est d’ici qu’avec leurs allies francais ils commencerent la poussee qui les mena a travers la France, l’Allemagne et l’Autriche, achevant la destruction complete de l’armde allemande et du regime Nazi.
As my time in the South of France came to a close, it was both humbling and fitting to experience such a moment. What else to do but smile and bid France adieu for now!