France D-Day Remembrance

Visitors walk among graves at the Colleville American military cemetery, in Colleville sur Mer, western France, on June 6, 2015. D-Day marked the start of a Europe invasion, as many thousands of Allied troops began landing on the beaches of Normandy in northern France in 1944 at the start of a major offensive against the Nazi German forces, an offensive which cost the lives of many thousands.

Freeland Andre DeGorce Townsley concentrated on getting through German machine gunfire when he stormed the Normandy beach on the coast of France 75 years ago. He was a naturalized American citizen fighting for the United States and for his native France.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Townsley probably wasn’t thinking about teaching French at North Texas State Teachers College, now the University of North Texas, but he eventually did. He was fluent in French, English, German and Spanish.

D-Day is still the largest military sea operation, and the turning point that allowed Allied forces to finally defeat Germany. Many lives were lost on D-Day. About 10,000 Allied American, British and French soldiers and citizens were killed, injured or went missing.

Townsley’s family made him leave France in 1939 as a teenager to get away from the prewar buildup. After two years at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Townsley couldn’t stand what was happening to his country. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 3, 1942.

The Army recognized Townsley’s value, dropping him behind enemy lines to work with the French Resistance. Because he was disguised as a French peasant with false identification papers, Townsley’s family changed his name, fearing he would be killed if captured as a Frenchman.

In a 1950 interview with the Campus Chat, the college newspaper, Townsley recalled that one of the most terrifying moments in the war was his first time on an airplane, when he parachuted, also for the first time, behind enemy lines. He spied on the Nazis for eight months.

Working with the French Resistance, Townsley executed acts of sabotage on the power grid, communication networks and transport facilities. Blowing up bridges and trains was dangerous work, and on several occasions he almost had to take the poison capsules he had been given. Approximately 220,000 French citizens worked with the French Resistance.

After helping lay the ground for the Allied invasion, Townsley rejoined the infantry to storm the Normandy beach on D-Day. He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge between December 1944 and January 1945, getting wounded during that battle.

Following the war, Townsley returned to Hendrix College and married his wife, Gene. They had a son named Steven. After graduating, Townsley worked as a teaching fellow at Oklahoma A&M University, now Oklahoma State University, while completing his graduate degree.

Townsley taught French at North Texas State from 1949 to 1952. As a resident of Oak Street in Denton, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Denton Record-Chronicle complaining about muffler-less cars cruising down Oak Street at 50 mph. He feared someone would get killed.

Townsley was still on active duty with the U.S. Army, and when the Korean War began, he was called up for service.

In addition to receiving the French Croix de Guerre, Townsley earned the Bronze Star for heroic service; the Silver Star, which was the third-highest decoration of personal valor; and the Purple Heart for his wounds in the Battle of the Bulge.

He died in October 1987 at the age of 64, and is buried at Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas.

ANNETTA RAMSAY, Ph.D., is a licensed and nationally certified counselor who has lived and worked in Denton for many years. She can be reached at annetta.ramsay@gmail.com. Her husband, Randy Hunt, contributed research for this article.

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