First Birthday Shindig in Normandy

Saturday, 15 July 1944, marked the first anniversary of the 371st Fighter Group’s 15 July 1943 activation at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia. In the period immediately preceding this birthday anniversary, Frisky was quite active, flying numerous missions from dawn to dusk out of A-6 airfield near Ste Mère Eglise.

As the 15th started, the group was in action again. Twenty-six dive-bombing P-47’s, covered by another 13 P-47’s as escorts, a total of 39 Thunderbolts, took off at 0926, in a show led by Major Goolsbee of the 406th Fighter Squadron. This was also the 404th Fighter Squadron’s 100th combat mission of the war.

Due to the overcast weather, 8/10 stratus from 1,500 to 4,000 feet which forced the show to fly in at low altitude, Frisky was unable to find the primary target, didn’t have the gas to reach the secondary target, but improvised successfully and hit an alternate target at 1017. In at low altitude and into a lot of light flak which damaged two Jugs, they managed to hit a marshaling yard at Dreux on the river and cut the rails in several places and damaged 25 box cars and an engine. Fifty 500-lb bombs rained down on the target – two did not release due to stiffness in the manual bomb release mechanism during the dive. Frisky then made it through the weather back to A-6 by 1100 hours.

One reason why Hitler's armies were not fed or supplied with ammunition. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

One reason why Hitler’s armies were not fed or supplied with ammunition. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

A release from further operations for the day came through in the morning. And so Frisky made plans for a celebration of the day, taking advantage of what local resources were available.

Behind the group’s chateau headquarters, the enlisted troops gathered in a green field to participate in sport contests. There were baseball games, relay races, and a tug of war, among the events.

Race at Frisky's First Birthday Party in Normandy.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Race at Frisky’s First Birthday Party in Normandy. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

At the far end of the field, the cooks in the group were busy preparing huge sections of beef “slowly barbecuing over deep pit fires.”

BBQ, Advanced Landing Ground style - not strictly according to Emily Post, but practicable.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

BBQ, Advanced Landing Ground style – not strictly according to Emily Post, but practicable. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Special Service provided some entertainment, including a reported first-rate show by comedian Eddie Hill.

Eddie Hill's troupe and the 371st Fighter Group's own, the Jive Bombers, entertained on Frisky's first anniversary.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.) anniversary

Eddie Hill’s troupe and the 371st Fighter Group’s own, the “Jive Bombers,” entertained on Frisky’s first anniversary. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

Even Normandy gave something to the party, with Calvados (an apple brandy specialty of the region) and apple cider to accompany the delicious BBQ.

CPL Andrew Jost, New Milford, CT - an enlisted member the 371st FG, has a hard time concentrating on his mess kit full of American barbecue.  Mademoiselle Charmagne cheerfully  listens as Cpl Jost tries a snow job, with a French accent, yet.  (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

CPL Andrew Jost, New Milford, CT – an enlisted member the 371st FG, has a hard time concentrating on his mess kit full of American barbecue. Mademoiselle Charmagne cheerfully
listens as Cpl Jost tries a snow job, with a French accent, yet. (The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

There were also some news correspondents and newsreel men on hand to watch the festivities. The festivities continued until nearly midnight.

It was at this party that Frisky’s Commander, Col. Bingham T. Kleine, announced that Frisky had become a father. That is by way of an “adoption” if you will, of a young French farmgirl named Yvette Hamel. Yvette had been grievously wounded by German artillery while milking cows at the family farm near La Haye du Puits. An Army medic administered life-saving first aid, and an Army field hospital near Ste Mère Eglise had saved her life and stabilized her condition, but then the hospital had to move on. Col Kleine agreed to take over care of Yvette to help her in the early stages of recovery – he realized there really wasn’t anywhere else she could go to get the medical care she desperately needed.

Young Yvette Hamel receives a show of friendly Frisky visitors in her convalescence tent during her stay with the 371st Fighter group in the summer of 1944.  Courtesy "Sunward I've Climbed," by Annie Laurie Morgan)

Young Yvette Hamel receives a show of friendly Frisky visitors in her convalescence tent during her stay with the 371st Fighter group in the summer of 1944. Courtesy “Sunward I’ve Climbed,” by Annie Laurie Morgan)

Col Kleine asked the members of the group to donate money to be used to help Yvette’s recuperation. The 405th Fighter Squadron history records this response: “As a result of his plea, the squadron raised more than $1000.00 (over 50% of the group total) as a gift for the girl.” Yvette was in good hands with the 371st Fighter Group, and would spend several months with the group before she went to Paris for rehabilitation. For more on Yvette’s story, see “The French Farm Girl of the Flying Field,” on the 142nd Fighter Wing website at:
http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123361404

Frisky’s respite was brief – by the afternoon on 16 July, the shows were launched again, and totaled six missions for that day. But at least the members of the group could feel that they suitably celebrated the 371st Fighter group’s first birthday.

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