Remembering Meehan

August 6th, 2011 | Related Project

1LT Thomas Meehan III, 0-437484
E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR)
101st Airborne Division

Meehan The Man

Born July 8, 1921, Thomas Meehan III was an artist from the start. Handsome and intelligent, he trained at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art to become a commercial artist, but the war intervened.

Always a fine horseman, he joined the Cavalry while it was still mounted, but found himself in a tank, not so much to his liking.

When the opportunity arose to go into the newly formed 506th Parachute Infantry, he made the switch. Meehan was briefly assigned to Company B before replacing Captain Herbert Sobel as Commanding Officer of Company E, 506th, in late 1943, about six months before the Invasion of Normandy. 

His wife’s name: Anne. His daughter’s name: Barrie.

One of the last letters home:

“England, 
26 May, 1944 

Dearest: 

Well, I see in the papers that the Anzio Beachhead is no longer that, and that Cassino has fallen. Looks like “we ain’t losin’ “. 

Looking back at the grim days of ’40-’41-’42, it seems hardly possible that we should have come so far. Those were grim years and we in the States hardly realized it. Now the shoe is on the other foot and the war has probably been decided in Europe. 

Yet, somehow I wonder about this “peace” as all the writers are describing it. I’m afraid that I am a pessimist with little faith in the realization that any peace will be compromise, not everlasting. I suppose that people, being as they are, have thought and tried world peace for thousands of centuries, but war, like the unwanted cat, comes back. 

All we want is our way of life and all the handshaking and backslapping in the world won’t change our ideas to conform with the other fellows’. The question is not, “How can we insure a permanent peace”, but “how can we have peace for the maximum length of time and still be ourselves, unyieldingly?” Natural, human, inevitable. And so, generation after generation has its day of crawling in filth and extracting the life of some other joker that only wanted peace, but a different brand of it. 

We’re fortunate in being Americans. At least we don’t step on the underdog. I wonder if that’s because there are no “Americans” – only a stew of immigrants, or if it’s because the earth from which we exist has been so kind to us and our forefathers: or if it’s because the “American” is the offspring of the logical European who hated oppression and loved freedom beyond life. Those great mountains and the tall timber; the cool deep lakes and broad rivers; the green valleys and white farmhouses; the air, the sea and wind; the plains and great cities; the smell of living — all must be the cause of it. And yet, with all that, we can’t get away from the rest. For everyone of our millions who has that treasure in his hand there’s another million crying for that victory of life. And for each of us who wants to live in happiness and give happiness, there’s another different sort of person wanting to take it away. 

Those people always manage to have their say, and Mars is always close at hand. We know how to win wars. We must learn now to win peace. Stick our noses in the affairs of the world. Learn politics as well as killing. Make the world accept peace whether they damn well like it or not. Here is the dove, and here is the bayonet. 

May we never see the day again that “World Peaceways”[1] and like organizations dull our senses and make us anything but realists. If I ever have a son, I don’t want him to go through this again, but I want him powerful enough that no one will be fool enough to touch him. He and America should be strong as hell and kind as Christ. That’s the only insurance until human nature becomes a tangible thing that can be adjusted and made workable.” Thomas Meehan, III

“It Burned For Three Days”

On June 5 1944, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Meehan, the 101st Airborne, Easy Company Commander, boarded a C-47 transport plane bound for France intending to parachute into Normandy and fight in the Allied Invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.

On the plane before takeoff, Lt Meehan penned a quick note to his wife, then handed it out the door to a friend, who promised it would be delivered. The note read:

“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. Your Tom.”

In plane #66, there were 17 paratroopers in the Commander’s ‘stick’ (including Meehan) and 5 members of flight crew.

The plane was also carrying a full compliment of Bangalore torpedoes, each one packing up to 85 pounds of TNT. Taking off from Upottery airfield in Devonshire, England, Lt. Harold Cappelluto was flying the aircraft and leading the formation, followed close behind by a plane piloted by Lt. Frank Deflita.

Lt. Frank Deflita remembers: “As we flew over Normandy, DCA’s (anti-aircraft tanks) started shooting at us, and Harold’s plane got hit several times. I could see Flak shrapnels going straight through his plane. After maintaining its course and speed for a while, the plane left the formation and slowly initiated a right turn. I followed it with my eyes and noticed its landing lights coming on, I thought it was going to be alright. Then suddenly, it came crashing down on a hedgerow and instantly exploded.”

Henry Margerie, a young boy at the time but who later became Mayor of the Normandy village, Beuzeville au Plain, witnessed the event.

He remembers: “As we awakened to Flak shooting and planes flying over the area, I saw a plane close to the village which seemed to be in trouble and attempted to land. I lost sight of it for a brief moment and then heard a loud explosion. The plane had crashed on a hedgerow bordering a field near the village. It burnt for three days, and the heat created by the fire made it impossible for us to approach.”


Photo by CPL Forrest Guth, E Co, 506th PIR

No one knew then whose plane this was.

The pilot, 1LT Harold Capelluto, is the only person from the crash of Plane #66 to be buried in the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

1LT Meehan was buried with 20 others in Ste. Mere-Eglise.

It would be some time before the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment could figure out exactly what happened to Easy Company’s Commander, his men, or Plane #66. It was 8 years (1952) before some human remains from the crash site were brought home and buried in the USA. It was a full 47 years (1991) before some details of the crash were confirmed, as the crash site was again examined and several personal items were recovered. It was another 9 years (2000) before a memorial was constructed and unveiled.

A Fitting Memorial

Excerpt from “The Forced Landing Association Newsletter”[2]

“47 years later, my friend Jean Pierre from the Forced Landing Association and I met Mr. (Henry) Margerie (Mayor of Beuzeville au Plain) during one of our investigating trips. Mr. Marjorie gave us an account of the June 6 forced landing and showed us precisely where it took place. 

After consulting the American archive “Missing Air Crew Report”, we figured that these would be the remains of Plane #66 which transported the “E” Company Commander and staff. While searching the site, we came to the conclusion we dreaded. 

As we dug the parachutes hooks out of the ashes, we noticed they were still locked. None of the occupants of the plane had managed to escape from the crash and jump. 

From the ashes that were piled on the hedge up to 80 cm (32 inches) high, we pulled out dog tags, crickets, rings and a watch. The hands of the watch had stopped at 01:12, this only reinforced what we knew about the force of the impact. Among the debris, we also found a helmet which had been completely flattened. 

The scene had such an emotional power on us that we decided with Mr. Margerie to erect a stele (monument) in memory of the courageous crew whose destiny had been to die before the battle had even begun.” By Guy Lepretre

Bernard Laniepce, who lives in Beuzeville au Plain, and Jean Pierre, president of The Forced Landing Association, work on the Beuzeville au Plain Monument.

The Forced Landing Association members Jean Pierre and Guy Lepretre building the Beuzeville au Plain Monument. The monument is in the shape of a C-47 rudder.

On Saturday June 3rd, 2000, at 11am, a memorial was unveiled, honoring the five aviators of the 439th Troop Carrier, 91st Squadron and the 17 paratroopers of 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne, 2nd Battalion, Company E who had lost their lives in the name of freedom.

Jason O’Mara attended the ceremony and photographed the proceedings:


Full colors, French and American national anthems and a dedication.


Maj. Cosby, Edward Peters, III (son of CPT Edward Peters, REGT HQ, 506th PIR, KIA 6 June 1944, Normandy) was the Military Embassy attaché (Third from right, facing camera), talking to Guy Lepretre (second from left, back to camera).


The mornings events were recorded to be included in a documentary film entitled “Ce jour-la.”



“Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided Republic.” — John A. Logan

Addendum:
[1] World Peaceways: A US peace group founded in 1932 by Mrs. Estelle Miller Sternberger. The group’s controversial anti-war advertising campaign’s included a magazine page depicting an image of a disabled veteran, with the caption: “Hello Sucker!” Source: Time Magazine, “Religion: PeacePlans”, March 16, 1936.

[2] The Forced Landing Association is an organization based in France and Belgium dedicated to “honoring the memory of allied aviators who crashed in France during the Second World War.” Mr. Guy Lepretre runs the Belgian office and Mr. Jean Pierre runs the French office. For more information go to: http://forcedlanding.pagesperso-orange.fr/index.htm

Sources:
http://www.101airborneww2.com/bandofbrothers.html
http://www.awon.org/awmeehan.html
http://www.101airborneww2.com

Many thanks to Shellen for her original research on Thomas Meehan.

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Discuss

  • Susan

    Lt. Meehan as the same birthday as my daughter-

  • http://twitter.com/Mosaic_Hyde Darell Phillips

    Remember.

  • jose roberto

    eu sou thomas meehan eu rencarnei em outro corpo lembro de tudo isso ate dos meus utimos minutos de vida no c-47 na normandia as 1h15 mn. da noite ….

    • Anonymous

      Sempre tem um.

  • THOMAS MEEHAN

    I have the privilege to share a pretty fine name with the lieutenant. I am also an artist. I make a point of remembering Lt. Meehan from time to time. He was clearly and extraordinary man.

  • James Meehan

    Clan Meehan honors our fallen cousin. “Currahee” (We Stand Alone)

    http://steamcommunity.com/groups/MEEHAN

  • Rich H

    Named our son after Lt Thomas Meehan. Would love to speak with someone from his family.