Léon Gautier, the last French 'hero' of the Normandy landings, dies at 100

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World War II veteran Léon Gautier passed away this Monday at the age of 100. Gautier was the last survivor of the 177 elite Frenchmen - the green Berets- who joined the American and allied forces that participated in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 defended by Hitler's forces.

The mayor of Ouistreham, Romain Bail, told the media of his death. Léon Gautier lived until his last days in this coastal town on the English Channel. It was one of the locations where troops landed on D-Day.

"Hero of Liberation, Léon Gautier has left us. We will not forget him," French President Emmanuel Macron said in his Twitter account after the news was released. Twitter.

Gautier was a nationally known figure. He was also an important voice in the historical memory of World War II. “You have to explain what happened to the younger generations, they need to know,” Gautier told Associated Press in 2019. “War is ugly. War is misery, misery everywhere. After the war, this commando member kiefferdedicated much of his life to perpetuating memory through interviews, holding exhibitions and talks, organizing commemorations and helping to create the museum in Ouistreham, which commemorates the French commandos who helped liberate Normandy.

President Macron paid tribute to him at the last commemoration of the D-Day anniversary in June, also taking the opportunity to recall that he used to repeat the message: "We are not heroes, we are only doing our duty."

Léon Gautier with French President Emmanuel Macron at the commemoration of the 79th anniversary of the Normandy landings in Colleville-Montgomery

Ludovic Marin/LaPresse

Also paying tribute today to Gautier's symbolic figure in French history was the country's Defense Minister, Sébastien Lecornu. "Léon Gautier is dead. He was the last survivor of the illustrious Kieffer commando, the only French unit that landed on the morning of June 6, 1944. His efforts to perpetuate the memory of the free French who fought for our freedom will continue," he said. on Twitter the minister.

Born in October 1922 in the city of Rennes, Brittany, and grew up with bitter memories of the First World War. Gautier enlisted in the French Navy, at the age of 17, in February 1940, shortly after the start of World War II.

In June of that year, France capitulated to Nazi Germany. At that time she was part of one of the last French warships to sail to Britain to join General Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces, which began organizing resistance there. In 1943, he volunteered for the 1st Marine Rifle Commando Battalion, later known as the Commandos. kieffer by her captain, Philippe Kieffer.


Gautier at his home in Ouistreaham, Normandy

Thibault Camus/LaPresse

Some 156,000 soldiers of the allied forces seized the French beaches of Normandy, in a large-scale operation unprecedented in Europe that marked a turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany. In the huge invasion force made up largely of American, British and Canadian soldiers. French Captain Philippe Kieffer's commandos ensured that France, too, had feats to be proud of, after the dishonor of their Nazi occupation, when some chose to collaborate with Adolf Hitler's forces.

On D-Day, Gautier and his comrades in the unit kieffer They were among the first waves of Allied troops to storm Nazi-defended beaches, beginning the liberation of Western Europe. Of the 177 who landed on the morning of June 6, only two dozen escaped death or injury, Gautier among them.

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