The Fourth of July is all about the nation’s independence, and World War II veteran James E. Hill is one who had gone above and beyond the call of duty 70 years ago to keep it that way.
Hill, from Elora, recently returned to France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France.
“I was fortunate to return to Normandy for the 50th, 55th, and the 67th anniversaries of D-Day, but making the 70th anniversary was very special,” Hill said.
Hill was accompanied by his son, Dr. Mike Hill of Nashville; his niece, Mrs. Kay Robinson; and grand-niece, Miss KayLee Robinson, both of Lexie Crossroads.
The family boarded the ocean liner, Queen Mary 2, in New York on Friday, May 16, beginning their transatlantic portion of the trip.
“We had 18 days on the ship,” grand-niece KayLee remembers. “It took a week to cross the ocean before we got to England. Then, we sailed to Belgium, Germany, and finally the coast of Norway, before we got off the ship and flew to Paris.”
While in Paris, the family celebrated the 49th birthday of Mr. Hill’s niece, Mrs. Kay Robinson, at a luncheon in the Eiffel Tower. After a few days of sightseeing in the “city of lights,” the family traveled to Normandy and settled into their chateau.
“Chateau de Canchy, only 13 miles inland from Omaha Beach, became our home for our final week in Normandy,” the younger Hill said. “Built in the 14th century, Chateau de Canchy has been in the family of the Marquises de Canchy since 1650, and was a lovely, quiet retreat during our stay in the historic area.”
While there, the elder Hill was honored by a special reception at the nearby estate of the current Marquis, The Honorable Jean-Francois du Moustier de Canchy, where local school children sang to the Hill family, and the elder Hill signed autographs.
The Marquis’s son and daughter-in-law, the Count and Countess de Canchy were also present with their children for the event.
“It always impresses me how truly appreciative the French are for America’s role in liberating them from Nazi tyranny during WW II,” the younger Hill said. “It’s absolutely genuine.”
On June 6, the Hill family attended the ceremonies at Omaha Beach, and the elder Hill and his son had the opportunity to meet and chat briefly with President Barack Obama.
“I wanted to shake the President’s hand and thank him for coming,” the elder. Hill said.
The Hills also met with Francois Hollande, the president of France; Secretary of State John Kerry; Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Odierno, after the ceremonies had concluded.
Later on June 6, the elder Hill was interviewed by MSNBC correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, with footage that appeared on national television that same evening.
He also met former news anchor Tom Brokaw and was interviewed by reporters from various French television networks.
After the ceremonies of June 6, the family visited the Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France, where a first cousin of Mr. Hill’s is buried — Pvt. Felix Coker, who was killed near Falaise, France in July 1944, during fierce fighting.
The Hill family laid a wreath at his grave while there. Felix was from the Alto community of Franklin County.
Leaving Normandy, the family had a short stay in London before flying back to the United States on June 14.
The elder Hill was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart by the U.S. government.
The government of France awarded him the French Legion of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre and made the elder Hill an honorary citizen of France.
“Dad jokes about returning to France for the 75th anniversary, but who knows,” the younger Hill said. “He just might make it. We’re planning a 90th birthday party for him in October. His birthday is October 24, 1924.”