Private First Class Bill French fought in the invasion of Sicily in 1943 where he was wounded and received his first purple heart. After his service in Italy, he was shipped to England to undergo the extensive preparations for the Allied invasion of France in 1944.
In order to buy valuable time for the troops landing, General Eisenhower needed to engage the German army inland before they could send reinforcements to the areas of the beaches where the landings were taking places. On the night BEFORE D-Day, it was the job of Bill French and the 82nd Airborne to land and take position to against the Germans – to prevent them from advancing their army to assist on the beaches that were being invaded, to give our landing forces more time to get ashore and secure space. Without these brave paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne, more Germans would have been able to get to the shores of France and perhaps repel the invasion.
His target was the town of St. Mere Eglise, a town about 10 miles west of the American landing site at Utah Beach. An American bombing run had set fire to a house in town and the local townspeople and the Germans were out that night. The sky was bright and lit up from the fire, and everyone could see the 505th parachuting down to earth. The Germans shot at the floating soldiers; Many were easy targets and were dead before they landed. Those that made it down often drowned; the Germans had flooded the valleys and low lying areas making much of the landing a death trap.
And when you landed, if you made it safely, what did you have to do? Bill French’s group somehow regrouped on the ground, and attacked the town at 4am with small arms fire. He helped liberate the first town by the Allies in France.
Bill French’s action report for the 505th for the day reads: “at the close of the day, the Division was in the midst of severe fighting. It had captured the town and was holding a general line” The fighting in the area continued all day.
Afterwards, Bill French fought on in France, not in rolling wine country but fought in small patches of land, about the size of a football field, surrounded by hedges so thick that Sherman tanks couldn’t go through. Each one of them had to be found over one at a time, with German rifleman and machine gunners hiding in row after row of the hedges. This was known to be some of the toughest fighting in the war.
He was wounded in Northern France on July 4th, 1944 and received the second of his purple hearts.
For his efforts in the Army in World War II in both Italy and France, Private First Class William French received three bronze stars.
— The preceding was taken from Pfc. French's eulogy. Given by Dr. George Shore; American History, Temple University