Remembering the B-17 in France: An Eyewitness Perspective
2013-09-30 by Chloé-Alexandra Laird
I had the honor in June of this year to ask a couple of questions to Michel Adrien, a witness to the B17 crash in the town of Noirmoutier, France on July 4th, 1943.
Q: How old were you when you witnessed this American plane crash in your hometown?
A: I was ten years old.
Q: What had been occurring that day?
A: That specific day there was a procession occurring throughout the town in honor of “La Fête-Dieu” (God’s celebration). Due to this holiday, there was not one car present in the streets. At the end of the ceremony, a big noise was heard. Being the ten year old that I was, I was extremely curious to discover the source of this disruption.
That is the moment that I saw a plane for the first time in my life. I remember seeing all these planes (which consisted of a B17 and two German fighter planes) and being in awe to how close they were to me. In fact, they were so close that I could actually make out the pilot’s face from where I was standing.
After that, I went home and got a stern talk from my father telling me to never put myself in such danger again.
Q: How were the Americans viewed as in France at this time?
A: The Americans were an image to us that represented hope. I remember them telling us not to worry because they were here to liberate us.
Q: And how was it with the Germans?
A: The Germans lived on the other side of the “wall” (next to my home), and it showed. Compared to us, they were all well built, tan, and full of youth. The comparison between the French and the Germans was readily apparent as we frequently suffered from lack of nourishment.
I remember being scared to be stopped as I was walking in the streets of Noirmoutier. One day, I had the fright of my life. As I was walking I heard someone yell “Pssht!” so I immediately stopped. Once realizing that the person yelling was a German soldier, I started to worry.
What had I done?
He told me to wait for him and as I did, multiple scenarios ran through my head… What was going to happen to me?! The German soldier after some time came back to me and handed me a loaf of bread to take home.
So, I gave it to my mother. My mother had to make sure it was safe to eat before anyone could even taste it. She gave a little piece of it to the chickens in our yard and once we saw that they weren’t sick with it, we were allowed to eat it.
That loaf of bread lasted us for several weeks and made an impression.
I’m still shocked to this day how that soldier risked getting in trouble just so that he could give the “petit Français” some bread.
It gave me a more humane perspective on the war.
The enemy also consisted of common people.
When I had wrapped up the interview, I had another experience which was significant as well.
As we were wrapping up this interview, an older French gentleman asked me to translate something to a young American woman. He asked me to tell her that he was extremely thankful for what the Americans had done for the French and that it was the greatest honor to be able to receive them in their humble town of Noirmoutier.
This moment was something that touched me deeply.
It just proved to me how strong the alliance between the French and the Americans is.
It is a beautiful thing to have such a union between the two countries.
As the years go by (and in the light of current events), it is getting more and more important to support one another and to remember this strong historical binding that we have.
For our coverage of the B-17 event this summer see the following: