histoire d'une forteresse volante abbattue à Saint-Colomban, près de Nantes, le 4 juillet 1943
1943 - 2004
July 3,4,5, 2004
# 42-5053
crash on July 4, 1943
in St-Colomban
Focke Wulf
into grand-lieu lake
10 young
american boys
B17 technical
Ralph D. McKee
(his escape)
Pilot escape
thanks to
american families
3,4,5 July 2004

4-July-2004 - Day 2

We rendezvous at place de l'Europe in Saint Colomban Town. A military parade goes through the streets of Saint Colomban. The parade consists of restored military vehicles of WWII vintage with men and women in military uniform, as well as a marching band from Saint Philbert de Bouaine. We are told the band has diligently been practicing the American National Anthem and other American songs for the day's events. The parade heads for the church in the center of the village. Outside the church, men and women in military uniforms, many carrying flags, assemble to enter the church in a procession.

In the square in front of the church, we are hugged and warmly greeted by the entire Ligonday family. Danielle Ligonday and her two grown children have come from St. Paul de Vence near Nice. Joël and his wife, son, and family are from north of Nantes. Both families have come to meet the McKee's and attend the festivities. We enter the church, where reverently placed on the altar are variety of military hats, most of WWII vintage. A flag ceremony begins and ends the service. Although the service is in French, we are moved by the proceedings and join in prayers of blessing for these wonderful people who are so appreciative of the freedom Americans brought them so many years ago. We also give prayers of thanks to the brave French men and women who saved our father's life.

From the church, the entire congregation walks to the town cemetery where the band plays and two wreaths are dedicated to the French and American men and women who lost their lives fighting for freedom in WWII. A motorized parachutist sails through the sky on this picture perfect day, with beautiful azure skies and a light wind blowing cool air over the crowd. Two buses are waiting for us and we board for our trip to the hamlet of Besson where the B17 crashed. It is here that the unveiling of the monument is scheduled to take place at 10:15. The military vehicles from the parade are parked in a formation along the back and sides of the monument serving as a fitting backdrop for the event. A French, American and European Nations flag are brightly waving from the three flagpoles and the band is playing. Dedication speeches are given by the mayor of Saint Colomban Town, Jean Luc Gauthier, the Assistant Mayor of Saint Colomban Town, Nicolas Orieux, the head of the Franco American Society, Marie Rodgers, Gene Johnston from the American Embassy and Gary Clements from the US Department of State. The press and attendees take many photos, and the McKee and Mooney families along with the Ligonday and Dugast families are asked to pose in front of the magnificent granite wing for group shots. We are in awe as we had not anticipated this level of emotion or out-pouring of thanks and gratitude we receive from the French people.

la famille Biret, rassemblée autour de madame BiretWe get back on our buses and go to the Saint Colomban school playground. We assemble on the blacktop where a platform and microphone has been set up for the ceremony. A chair is brought out for Madame Biret who is too old to stand for the entire ceremony. Her husband, Marcel Biret, was one of the first two men who first got to the young navigator, Ralph McKee and hid his parachute, while his friend Celestin Dugast whisked Ralph away to safety on their two bicycles. Marcel Biret was buried two days before the event at age 90 after a long illness and Madame Biret clutches a small photo of her husband throughout the ceremony.

Dianne Rhodes, fille de Ralph McKeeThen the first of many speeches begin, most of them in French. Garry McKee and Larry McKee read messages from their uncle, Ralph McKee, and French translations follow. Dianne McKee Rhodes and Helen McKee Duncan present a mahogany replica of the downed B17 #42-5053 to the town. Presents of wine, books on the History of Saint Colomban and red roses for the women are given to all the visiting Americans. The sun begins to beat down relentlessly as the speeches continue and then there is a ceremony to present medals to deserving French men who served in the military.

After the ceremony we head for long tables that have been set up along the perimeter of the playground for another vin d'honneur. Luckily they are also serving some non-alcoholic drinks for those of us parched by the morning's events.

At 2 PM we enter the school cafeteria with the red, white and blue decorations, parachute and garlands of French and American flags for a sumptuous buffet lunch. Throughout the day French people come to meet us and thank us for liberating them and giving them their freedom. One man has tears streaming down his face as he tells us the tale of his family who had been active in the Resistance Movement. His entire family was sent to German concentration camps, where his mother was used for medical experiments and died. Only two other members of his family survived besides him. We cry with him as he gives us his name and address.

Jean Ligonday, a well-known member of the French Resistance, hid Ralph McKee in the attic above his chemist shop in the town of Basse-Indre (now Indre), which we will visit the next day. Joël Ligonday, seven at the time, was visiting relatives and Danielle, who was four, remembers Ralph McKee well. She recounts that while her family was hiding Ralph McKee; she went to school and told the teacher they had visitors who came from the sky. The teacher promptly walked her home and told her parents that she was not to come to school for the next few weeks!

Danielle has mentioned that the young navigator, Ralph McKee, promised her he would come back to France and bring her a doll. Dianne McKee Rhodes and Helen McKee Duncan present a beautiful hand painted doll that has been selected by Ralph McKee for Danielle. Kisses follow from Danielle and so many Frenchmen and Frenchwomen at the event. We cannot recall any time when we have been kissed so often by so many people - twice on each cheek. Others continue to thank us for being their liberators, often with their hand across their hearts! We are all exhausted but exhilarated by the day's events.

We present engraved silver letter openers to the 4-July-2004 Memorial Weekend organizers, Marcel Déramé, Jean Luc Gauthier, Didier Giraudeau, Sebastien Hervouet, Benoit Mabit, Nicolas Orieux and Corinne Pouvreau who have spent several years of research and planning and an inordinate amount of time organizing the three days; as well as to the families of those who helped the young Ralph McKee escape to freedom sixty-one years ago.


Helen M. Duncan and Dianne M. Rhodes