To all but the most ardent of history buffs, the date Aug. 25 probably does not ring any bells. It’s just another late-summer scorcher, or perhaps a reminder that Christmas is only four months away.
But for William D. Hay of Covington, today, the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation in World War II, hits very close to home, thanks to some remarkable photographs he found among his late father’s things.
Like many World War II veterans, Army private first class Odus Daniel Hay didn’t talk much about his war experiences.
"I guess he was just leaving it in the past,’’ his son said.
Though his father would answer questions about the war when asked, the scope of what he witnessed and his own role in history was quite a surprise to his son.
The sepia-toned photos William Hay found clearly show what history books record: On the day that French resistance and Allied soldiers liberated Paris, Aug. 25, 1944, the streets were filled with cheering throngs. In one photo of Paris’ iconic Arch de Triumphe, the tattered remnants of a swastika banner can be seen.
The photos prompted Hay to research his father’s service in the war.
In a 1945 publication, "196th Field Artillery Battalion,’’ edited by Master Sgt. Meyer H. Weiss, he read, "On 18 Aug. ’44, we were relieved from attachment to the Provisional Ranger Group and assigned to V Corps. Early on the morning of Aug. 24 we received orders to resume the march on Paris. The column entered the city shortly after noon on Aug. 25. The French people showered us with fruits, wines and flowers to show their joy at liberation. In places, the crowds were so dense that we had to halt to keep from hitting someone.’’
It continues, "The battalion took up a position a block north of the Arch near the French Nazi headquarters. Off the record, Odus ‘Otis’ Daniel Hay and a few others from Forward Battery A raided the building. It appears to have been allowed under a ‘special operations’ provision of V Corps. Typical of the French fascist bureaucracy, the officers were abandoned and the records destroyed.’’
As the master sergeant’s account goes on to make clear, not all was wine and roses for the V Corps that day or in the days that followed.
"It would not be the last special operation,’’ the 1945 account continues. "The next two days were spent clearing the district of German snipers that remained in the city. V Corps spent only three days in Paris and was the first division to cross into Germany. The actions of that winter would become known to history as The Battle of the Bulge.’’
Learning more about the Battle of the Bulge is William Hay’s next project. He knows his father served in the Army from October 1943 to October 1945, before returning to Covington to live and raise his family.
And he remembers his father’s stories of that grueling winter campaign, and of ground so frozen that soldiers were sometimes pinned in their sleeping bags.
He also plans to make sure that his father’s photographs are handed over to either the Pentagon or perhaps a history museum, to be preserved as part of American history.