>> The Little Engine That Could <<

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Wanderlust Adventures

Dick Field

During our visit to California we met some pretty amazing people, one being Rachael, owner of two hugely amazing companies Lace & Likes // Siren Floral Co who we have followed since forever.
When Rachael emailed asking us to join her & her 90 year old gramp in South France to capture their adventure we we’re absolutley psyched. Turns out her Gramp, Dick Field is the coolest man we’ve ever met. >>
Within minutes of arriving at the frenchie villa we were greeted with sunshine, american accents, rose wine & some incredible history lessons
Dick was only 19 Years old when he Volunteered to be a World War II Paratrooper. After working through intense training stages he proudly earned his wings & became Airborn. The Army assigned him to the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. >>
Dick dug out all his old photographs- showing us what an absolute hottie he was back in the day & re-lived his memories with us, some beautiful and some tragic. We asked a million and one questions and every one of his tales were unforgettable. >>
In August 1944 his unit participated in their first combat drop; Operation Dragoon. The allied invasion of Southern France. Dick recalls “that ‘the big picture’ (operation Dragoon itself) had not been explained to the paratroopers, they had only been educated on their particular roles as 1st Airborn Task Force (blocking German attempts to send reinforcements to halt the allied beach landings) Dick knew he was part of a bigger operation, but what that was, he did not know on August 15th” * >>

 

 They made airborne history as they were the first American paratroopers to carry out a daylight combat jump in Europe. Dick told stories of his first jump like it was yesterday, when we questioned how he could recall memories from 70 years back he replied “well wouldn’t you!?
The Germans had created defences against airborne forces, the enemy had planted the ground with thousand of sticks to impale paratroopers as the landed & stretched thick wires in-between trees to damage incoming gliders. Luckily the 551st landed in the vineyards owned by The Valbourges Estate — where Dick was one of the lucky few who landed himself squarely on the ground. >>
James Stevens -an Englishman & his French wife saw the paratroopers gliding from the airplanes from The Valbourges Estate & immediately went from tree to tree saving troopers that were injured and danggling. Dick told us how The Valbourges estate became a field hospital, the house was used to help the injured and wounded. >>
Operation Dragoon experienced great success on D-Day // By the end of the day they had liberated Le Muy & captured over 500 German soldiers. The following day 551st moved into the German occupied city of Draguignan, which they liberated by the 17th. >>

 

 

While we were there they were celebrating 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of France.
Our first adventure was a mini meet up with the 551st survivors at the cemetery. Dick went to pay respects at some friends graves, his overwhelming emotion had us in tears. He explained that he still dreams about the things he saw. There was a private ceremony for close friends & family, where Dick was presented with a gigantic American Flag. >>
The following day, there was a huge ceremony at the cemetery, where hundreds of French actors army suited n booted ready for their marching performance.. We cannot describe how amazing the atmosphere was, we had no idea how spectacular this event was going to be. There were Jeeps, tanks & motorcycles everywhere – All authentic and remastered. Swing music playing everywhere, Women dressed as veteran wives, rocking the 40’s look. It felt like we were on a WWII movie set, we were in heaven. Everyone mounted into the jeeps & started the journey to the ‘Old Valbourges Estate’. On the way Dick pointed out the fields & vineyards where his troops landed, he even showed us a tree trunk where there was an original plane wing still wedged into it. It was amazing to put an image to all of Dicks tales. >>
When we arrived, we couldn’t believe the Estate was still standing, let alone as beautiful as it was. We attended another 551st ceremony when we arrived in the Estates Chapel, Which is dedicated to the troops. The celebrations continued in the estate garden, where we all had a feast American Army Style. Cannon’s we’re shot, dancing was had & my oh my we never wanted it to end. >>
We were overwhelmed by the amount of respect & admiration the French we’re showing the 551st survivors. Soldiers were collecting autographs, children made parachutes to be signed, there is even a street named after the troops in Draguignan city. Dick was beaming with pride & rightly so. He was their hero & he’d become ours too.
 
If the last couple of days hadn’t turned us into emotional wrecks, the following day made it official. It was Dick’s 90th Birthday & his family had secretly planned a surprise birthday party back at the Villa. We witnessed an insane amount of love, people had travelled world wide to just to attend & he was showered with the most exquisite gifts.
>>
 
This really was a adventure we’ll never forget. 
 
 
*quote taken from Dick Fields story book “Sacrifice and Service