101st commemorates 78 years since bloody cabbage patch fighting in France

101st commemorates 78 years since bloody cabbage patch fighting in France
World War II veteran Gil Nadeau gives a "thumbs up" as he is escorted to a ceremony at the Cabbage Patch Square in Carentan, France, on June 3, 2022. Photo credit U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Amanda Fry

Soldiers from the armies of the United States, France, and Germany, alongside French civil servants honored veterans of World War II at a memorial June 3, 2022, in Carentan, France, at what was once a cabbage patch.

The Cabbage Patch Square, eight miles inland from Utah Beach, and behind what were once enemy lines, is the location where 78 years ago, U.S. paratroopers began the bloody, close combat battle, to liberate the city of Carentan.

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The Cabbage Patch got its name from the fields where the German occupiers allowed the French population to grow food for survival. On June 11, 1944, those same humble fields bore the fruit of future victory.

The cabbage patch has an official name, Hancock Field, named for Captain Fred Hancock, a 34-year-old company commander in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Hancock was awarded the Silver Star for his company’s action during the campaign and a Purple Heart.

This year marks 80 years since the 101st Airborne Division first activated on August 16, 1942. In June 1944, the division was not yet two years old, but the Screaming Eagles found themselves in skies over Normandy, preparing to fight to the death for the free world, in a country they’d never visited, and for people whom they had never met.

Jean-Pierre LHonneur, mayor of Carentan, hosted the event.

Speaking to the veterans who attended the ceremony, LHonneur said, “You know the value of peace and your presence reminds us of the price that you and your comrades in arms had to pay 78 years ago to restore it.”

During the ceremony, the French Government bestowed two veterans the French Legion of Honor, the highest French award for merit.

101st commemorates 78 years since bloody cabbage patch fighting in France
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment salute World War II veterans who are being escorted to a ceremony at the Cabbage Patch Square in Carentan. Photo credit U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Amanda Fry

Reid Clanton, 98, was one of the two veterans to receive the French Legion of Honor during the ceremony. On May 20, just three weeks before the DDay 78 commemorations, Maj. Gen. William Prendergast, Army North Deputy Commanding General, presided over a ceremony in San Antonio, Texas, to award Clanton the Bronze Star and other military service awards in recognition of his contributions to combat operations during the war.

Other notable veterans attended the ceremony including well-known Screaming Eagles Vinny Speranza and Tom Rice.

“Allow me to greet in particular Mr. Tom Rice, a friend of Carentan-les-Marais, whose parachute jump illuminated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in front of the cameras of the entire world,” Lhonneur said.

In his remarks to the Soldiers, veterans, city officials, and civilians, Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, said the Allied soldiers who landed in the cabbage patch were not alone in their efforts to free Carentan, but were aided by the support of the local people of Normandy, and by members of the French resistance – “forever solidifying the bonds between this part of France and the 101st Airborne Division.”

During the ceremony, the attendees took several opportunities to recognize the veterans, between the ages of 97 and 101, who traveled to France with a standing ovation and a round of applause.

Despite the accolades, McGee reminded those gathered that anyone can take on the spirit of those WWII-era Screaming Eagles – the spirit to rise to any challenge and win – and apply it in their daily lives.

101st commemorates 78 years since bloody cabbage patch fighting in France
A World War II veteran smiles for the camera as he is escorted to a ceremony at the Cabbage Patch Square in Carentan, France, June 3, 2022. Photo credit U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Amanda Fry

“The Soldiers of the 101st Airborne were not superheroes,” said McGee. “They were ordinary people who rose to the challenges of their day and fought through cabbage patch fields in the Norman countryside. They rose to this challenge with courage and a tremendous will to win and helped restore freedom and liberty.”

The translation of the inscription on the monument at Hancock Field reads: June 11, 1944

“It's from here where it started in the Cabbage Patch, the decisive assault of the 502nd Regiment, paratroopers from the 101st Airborne, disrupted the Germans permitting the liberation from Carentan.”