One day for two heroes in Renouf, Normandy

On 14 June 1944, two men had rendezvous with destiny. One sacrificed himself for his men, while another one captured 85 German soldiers. Their destiny had in common to save numerous lives. These heroes were Staff-Sergeant Paul E. Alexander, and First-Lieutenant Joseph L. Rappazini, both members of the 60th Infantry Regiment.

On 10 June 1944, the first elements of the 9th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach (Colonel Flint’s 39th Infantry Regiment) to be attached to the 4th Infantry Division. They started immediately their operations in cleaning the coast on the 4th Division’s right flank, and eventually captured the town of Quinéville.

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In Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, the first troops of the 9th Infantry Division meet the first locals while walking thru the town to join-up their assembly area, on 10 June 1944.

The 60th Infantry Regiment was fully unloaded on Utah as from 13 June, and gathered in their assembly area in order to start operations requested by the VII Corps headquarters. The mission asked to the 9th Division was to progress westward to cut the Cotentin Peninsula, and turn north toward Cherbourg. The first obstacle to this advance was the Douve River, and the 9th Division’s area of responsibility was controlled by two German infantry regiments supported by three or four artillery battalions, and perhaps miscellaneous personnel such antiaircraft artillery troops. The 9th Division’s attack was scheduled to start at 10h on 14 June, in column of regiments, with 60th Infantry in assault…

On 14 June, at 10h in morning, as scheduled, the 60th Infantry jumps off and advances in columns of battalions. The avenues of approach are narrow due to the small width of the division’s front. The plans were to breakthrough first and expand later. The 2nd battalion is leading. On the regiment’s right flank, the 90th Division’s 359th Infantry was advancing toward Orglandes, and on the left flank could be found elements of 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 358th Infantry Regiment that were advancing towards Bonneville along the D15 Road.

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  1. Staff-Sergeant Paul E. Alexander

Paul E. Alexander was a squad leader in G Company, 2nd Battalion. On 14 June, his battalion was leading the regiment’s first attack since they were unloaded in France. They had to progress village by village, and clean each and every enemy resistance and strong point.

The morning advance by the battalion was made according to the plan, and they met only scattered resistance on their way. The first objective of the 60th Infantry was the small village of Renouf (today the village has changed its name into ‘La Croix-Renouf’), consisting of maximum 10 buildings, mainly old farm and small habitations.

Alexander’s company was advancing to the village when suddenly, machinegun fires fixed his outfit. The village was held by several entrenched enemy soldiers, supported by 10 machinegun nests, all of this transforming Renouf into a heavily defended position.

The company was pinned down for more than one hour, and then Alexander stood up and moved his unit. He had neither cover nor protection, and soon was badly hit while maneuvering his squads in open terrain. He continued to give his orders and direct the attack. He threw grenades to four enemy machinegun positions, silencing them and inflicting the enemy severe casualties. His actions inspired his men and the rest of his company, who succeeded in achieving the mission to take Renouf at the end of the afternoon.

Alexander died of his wounds later that day. For these actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest military award after the Medal of Honor. His actions that day inspired the men of his company, but it also unlocked the 2nd battalion’s situation, opening the way to Reigneville. Veterans are used to say they weren’t really aware of the global tactical situation (operational picture or situation awareness), which is true. Eventually, we can now testify of the importance of Staff-Sergeant Paul E. Alexander’s actions on 14 June 1944 in Renouf, which allowed the whole 60th Infantry Regiment to achieve the fastest advance ever made in combat, and to cut the Cotentin Peninsula which had a significant impact on the VII Corps’ operations in their push toward Cherbourg.

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His sacrifice should be remembered, and he and his actions should inspire the young men of today. Paul E. Alexander exemplified what is a true American Hero, a true human hero.

S/SGT Alexander’s Distinguished Service Cross citation :

Paul E. Alexander SSgt (P), Company G

Date: 14 Jun 44

Citation: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Paul Edwin Alexander (15104455), Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company G, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 14 June 1944, near Normandy, France. When his company had been held up of over an hour by extremely heavy machine gun fire from an enemy strongpoint, Staff Sergeant Alexander led his squad forward to attack the enemy position. As he moved ahead of his men across the fire-swept terrain, Staff Sergeant Alexander was seriously wounded, but nevertheless continued to lead his squad and direct their attack. He personally threw hand grenades into four enemy machine gun positions completely silencing the guns and inflicting numerous casualties on the enemy. Staff Sergeant Alexander’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 9th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

Headquarters, First U.S. Army, General Orders No. 70 (October 17, 1944)

Today, Alexander’s nephew is keeping his memory alive, and works every day to make sure this hero’s actions and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

  1. First Lieutenant Joseph L. Rappazini

First Lieutenant Joseph L. Rappazini was a platoon leader in K Company, 3rd Battalion. On 14 June 1944 his battalion is ordered to take part in the attack that should start at 10h in the morning, following 2nd Battalion. At 06h, the battalion left its bivouac area northeast of Picauville to join the designed assembly area located next to a crossroad west of Renouf.

At 09h30, I and K companies were ready to follow 2nd Battalion’s attack toward Renouf, and around 10h30, K company reported to the regiment that they had reached a river. At that time, they thought it was the Merderet River but it wasn’t: the river K Company reached was a stream coming into the Douve River, south of Renouf.

The company continued its advance, and on its way, captured several German soldiers who were fleeing. At mid-afternoon, the company stopped its advance. Rappazini observed in front of him after he has been warned of an enemy force in approach.

Thru his binoculars, Lieutenant Rappazini spotted nearly 100 Germans in a field. He ordered his platoon not to fire to avoid his position being revealed to the enemy. The officer walked toward the German alone after he briefed his platoon sergeant to take charge of the platoon. He showed up to the German and made clear he wasn’t armed, which amazed the enemy soldiers. Rappazini asked if anyone could speak English and one man stepped forward.

He then sat down with the group beneath a hedgerow and told the English speaker how the futility of fighting, that they were almost encircled and outnumbered. He told them how the Americans were running up prisoners all along the line and just sending them to the rear without hardly any guards.

All the sudden, one officer had swung over the hedgerow by grabbing the limb of a tree in trying to keep up with the fast progress of the advancing tanks and landed in the midst of Germans. All surrendered.  This group should do likewise. The German officers were angry, but the men began to argue.

This went on for two hours and a half. Finally, Rappazini gave them 15 minutes to decide. The German took a vote. Eighty-five agreed to surrender. The others disappeared into the woods. Rappazini marched the prisoners out, rejoined his platoon and went back on to the front. Later on that day, his company secured Renouf to relieve G Company. For this action, First Lieutenant Joseph L. Rappazzini was awarded the Silver Star. Thank to his persuasive qualities, that day he saved numerous American and German lives, without a fight.

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1Lt Rappazini’s Silver Star citation:

Joseph L. Rappazini, Company K

Date: 14 Jun 44

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to First Lieutenant (Infantry) Joseph L. Rappazini (ASN: 0-1305988), United States Army, for gallantry in action against the enemy while serving with the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, in France. While in a forward position with his anti-tank platoon in the vicinity of Barneville, France, on 14 June 1944, Lieutenant Rappazini observed a company of the enemy, armed with mortars, machine guns and machine pistols, approaching his unit’s positions. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, he placed his noncommissioned officers in charge of the platoon with instructions to warn the Command Post while he moved forward in an attempt to persuade the enemy to surrender. Reaching the enemy forces, he was disarmed and questioned. In the meantime, the forward Command Post had been notified of the situation and heavy weapons fire was ordered to be brought to bear on enemy forces. Thoroughly convincing the enemy officers they were outnumbered and surrounded, Lieutenant Rappazini took three officers and eighty-one enlisted men as prisoners. Lieutenant Rappazini’s actions were a credit to himself and to the Armed Forces of the United States.

Headquarters, 9th Infantry Division, General Orders No. 96 (November 9, 1944)

Epilogue

That day of 14 June 1944 saw two different actions of valor by exceptional men. Rappazini captured the 85 German soldiers roughly in the same time that Alexander was fighting heroically few hundred yards north to him. It’s incredible to see the different ambiances of these two scenes, located really close to each other. These two heroic acts should be remembered, as well as their names, and inspired all of us in our daily life. One gave his life to save his men’s, and the other avoided hard fights and death to his men. Moreover, their actions had a tactical importance for their regiment, facilitating the advance eastward to cut off the Peninsula.

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While Joseph L. Rappazini survived the War, Paul E. Alexander was buried and rest in peace at the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Plot E Row 14 Grave 39.

Lest We Forget