In the Company of Heroes
June 1-8, 2001

by Thomas D. Potter
[son of PVT George L. Potter, Jr., (E Co, 2nd BN, 506th PIR, Feb 43-Nov 45)]

With the wind blowing fiercely through my hair, I closed my eyes as I walked along the sacred sands of Utah Beach, Normandy, France this past June, thinking of how my father must have felt fifty-seven years prior when he jumped from a C-47 during the pre-dawn hours of June 6th, 1944, not knowing then about his ultimate outcome or survival. My father was part of the D-Day invasion of the Normandy coast of France, a coast highly defended by the German army. To drive out the evil Nazi domination of Europe, thousands of our young American men put their lives on the line on that historic day.

I was honored to be invited by HBO along with my mother Lois and my two brothers Dan and Tim and their families to view the world premiere of "Band of Brothers" in Normandy. The story is based on E Company of the 101st Airborne Division, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the legendary Screaming Eagles, my father's army unit of World War II. This mini-series documents the dauntless exploits of Easy Company. From parachuting into France on D-Day, they fought their way through Holland, were surrounded at the Battle of the Bulge, ultimately capturing Hitler's Eagles Nest at Berchtesgaden. The movie premiere was held on June 6th near Utah Beach Normandy. To be with these men who had fought along side my father during this time of uncertainty was an incredible experience. Elderly men now with memories yet sharp of those past days filled with the terror of combat. To listen to their stories of battles fought so long ago brought tears to my eyes and a partial understanding of the brutality of war. My father seldom spoke of the war. Memories that seemed too painful to talk about, of brothers maimed or killed in combat, of many of the young soldiers who would never hold a child of their own in their arms, or families losing a son a brother or a father. So young and so much potential lost. We must never forget the price paid for freedom.

On our way to the Sacramento International Airport we had a friendly conversation with our driver. He had asked us about where we were headed so we explained to him about the HBO mini-series and my father's army unit. He was a nice gentleman with an English accent. I was quite surprised when he told us a story about his childhood living in London during WWII and how he would hide terrified under their grand piano when hundreds of German planes would drop devastating bombs on his city, killing many of its citizens. His father had told him that hiding under the piano was the probably the safest place in the house to be during the bombing. He thanked my deceased father for his contribution to the war effort.

American Airlines had graciously provided a chartered round-trip 777 between New York and Paris for the veterans of Easy Company, their family members, and many of the actors of HBO's "Band of Brothers." During the flight to Europe very few of us stayed in our seats. People talked and laughed as they roamed the aisle ways. It was quite some gathering of old friends and the making of new ones. When the plane touched down at Charles De Gaulle, we all clapped heartedly. For many of the veterans on that plane it was their first trip back to France since the war. They remembered their first visit to France when they had to jump out of a plane to get there.

Our seven days in Paris were full of adventure and tours of the wonderful sights. We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel, the same hotel Charles Lindberg had stayed in after his historic solo flight across the Atlantic. We visited majestic and historical places such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Napoleon's Tomb and Versailles. HBO made sure that all the families and guests were well accommodated. One beautiful evening we experienced an unforgettable dinner on a riverboat cruise on the Seine. The Eiffel Tower would sparkle with lights like a gigantic Christmas tree every hour on the hour for about ten minutes. What a magnificent sight that could be seen for many miles!

On June 6th we excitedly boarded our train for a three-hour ride to the Normandy coast for the D-Day ceremonies and the premiere at Utah Beach. We stopped at the small town of Carentan, were my father had fought so desperately against the Germans, to be greeted by its appreciative citizens and by a smiling group of young school children carrying flowers and clicking crickets. The paratroopers, to identify each other during those dreadful early morning hours of darkness, had used these metal "crickets," on D-Day. The children lovingly passed out flowers to the wives and to the men of E Company. We then transferred to busses for the short ride to Utah Beach. On the way we could observe the lush green fields and the hedgerows, those obstacles that had caused so many problems for the gliders and the advancing American troops. The landscape seemed to have changed little over the last fifty plus years.

During the D-day ceremonies tributes were paid to the men of E Company and to all of the military forces that took part on that historic day so long ago. With speeches, military flyovers, marching bands and the laying of the wreath, it was quite a moving experience. I met one old warrior who had been back to Utah Beach some fifty-seven times on June 6th to pay tribute to his fallen comrades. A love for his brothers not lost to time.

The premiere was held in a massive tent, seating capacity near a thousand near Utah Beach. In attendance were Tom Hanks, Steven Ambrose, HBO executives, dignitaries, directors, actors, and many of the remaining E Company men and their families. I'll never forget the scene portraying the C-47's lining up on the runway, engines roaring at full throttles as they departed for the Normandy coast and their rendezvous with destiny; the intense anti-aircraft fire on the weaving Dakotas and the terrified airborne troops on them; the men and planes being hit and going down in flames. I don't think there was a dry eye in the theatre. Some of the combat scenes portrayed quite vividly the horrors of war. The intense noise, confusion, and brutality of combat proved at times overwhelming. It was not easy for many of these men and their families to sit through. To relive these moments of terror can be quite frightening. But by doing so we could all understand the importance of this mini-series to educate the younger generations about the extreme sacrifices our country had made during the WWII effort. I sincerely hope that the children and grandchildren of WWII veterans will ask their parents and grandparents questions to learn more about that tremendously turbulent and unifying period of our country's past.

Our last night in Paris we were given a spectacular farewell dinner, with food and live music beyond comparison. I also had the wonderful experience of meeting Lies Vogel Stall, the woman from Holland who had my father's signature in her diary book. Only a few of the brave paratroopers had signed this when they liberated her town of Eindhoven on September 18, 1944 during Operation Market Garden. Lies was only fourteen at the time of liberation. She had arrived with her family from Holland to honor and give out gifts to the men of E Company. The grandson of Winston Churchill and granddaughters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower made touching speeches about their famous relations and what the war meant to their families. Eugene Richardson, a Tuskegee Airman, made a moving speech about his outstanding and heroic black fighter-pilot squadron and the obstacles they faced during WWII. (His son was the pilot who flew us over to France.) But for me, one of the most moving moments was when Steven Ambrose read a letter written by Tom Meehan from E Company for his wife that was handed out the door of his C-47 only moments before the invasion of Normandy was to begin. It read:

                            June 5th, 1944
Dearest Anne:
    In a few hours I'm going to take the
best company of men in the world into
France. We'll give the bastards hell.
Strangely I'm not particularly scared,
but in my heart is a terrific longing
to hold you in my arms.
    I love you Sweetheart - forever

Lieutenant Tom Meehan, the E Company commander, and all the men on his plane were killed when the Germans shot down his C-47 over Normandy on June 6th, 1944.

Our trip to France was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. I commend Stephen Speilberg, Tom Hanks, Stephen Ambrose, HBO and American Airlines for giving us all such a wonderful, unforgettable experience. But most of all I want to thank my father George L. Potter Jr., the men of E Company and all the veterans of World War II for their bravery and the sacrifices they made for our country. All Americans need to know about World War II and never forget the appalling cost and of those men who paid it. I cherish one section from Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers that sums it up quite nicely it stated, "In one of his last newsletters, Mike Ranney wrote: "In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I'm treasuring my remark to a Grandson who asked, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' "'No,' I answered, 'but I served in a company of heroes.'"

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506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile - Air Assault)
This page updated 04/06/13