He was a WWII US veteran. He landed in Vierville-sur-Mer (Calvados Department) on June 13, 1944, the day he turned 27. He was a Lieutenant in the 30th US Infantry Division and liaison officer which explains why he perfectly knew each and every Norman small roads and villages. St-Jean-de-Daye is the first village he liberated. He took part in Operation COBRA which followed the liberation of Saint-Lô, then in the hard fighting in Mortain. His combat led him to Domfront, Evreux, in the Bulge, then in Belgium, the Netherlands and finally in Germany until the end of the War. He spent several years in the occupied Germany and upgraded to Major.
He was awarded many medals :
- Bronze Star Medal for his heroism
- The Purple Heart Medal for being wounded in combat actions (he got wounded twice
and still had a shrapnel in his cheek after the War.)
- The French Croix de Guerre
- The Commemerative medal for the Battle of Normandy
- The Belgian fourragère
- The Memorial Cross of Holland
- The Dutch Queen's Medal which makes him a member of the Orange-Nassau royal family.
- And, above all the French Légion d'Honneur he was awarded in Mortain in June 2009.
He was president and historian of the US Infantry Division veterans association. He was also the founder and manager of the WWII museum at Camp Blanding, Florida, where several American divisions trained before departing to England.
He was married, father of four, grandfather, great-grandfather and lived in Brooker, Florida.
He was at the origins of the cration of « Les Fleurs de la Mémoire », the association whose members lay flowers on the soldiers' graves in the American Cemetery in Normandy (Colleville and St James). Here follows some excerpts of the letter Frank sent in December 2000 to Claude Lavielle, president and founder of this association.
«When I'm traveling to Europe, the most difficult thing for me is to visit my division comrades' graves in the American Cemeteries since, as a liaison officer, I knew almost everone of them. Every visit is a hardship. When I'm here, standing silently at the foot of a grave, images of this comrade's life come to my mind. It's the same in front of each graves. Time after time. But I have to do that. I can't exempt myself from doing it. Soon, neither I nor my comrades will be able to visit the graves of those who stayed in Europe. Will they be abandoned… If, upon my request, thanks to the action you accept to undertake, you are successful at convincing the people from Normandy to lay flowers on a grave every year, I would deeply feel like I pay one last tribute to my fallen comrades.» (1)
Frank Towers was a tireless ambassador of Peace, Remembrance and French-American friendship.
Since the 80's, he came to Normandy about every two years and stays in a French family who considers him a member of the family.
He fought for France. He loved and respected this country which he tried to be better known by his compatriots, and particularly the young ones.
He kept in touch – through mail, internet, invitation at his place or visiting – with the countries he liberated's inhabitants, officials or citizens.
Some deeds, subsequent tohis fighting, showing his affection for France and deserving to be noticed :
The main goal of his visits to France was to visit his brothers in arms' graves in the two American Cemeteries : Colleville and St James.
But then, he was alwways willing to meet with people and learn more about the friendly people of Normandy.
He went many a time in schools and junior highs so as to meet young people.
Always carrying the same message :
We must, of course, remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend Liberty but we must also acknowledge that war is terror and do every thing we can to preserve Peace.
Once back home, he did the same with the youth of his country who ignore all or almost all of what happened during World War Two.
He organized regular meetings and hosted conferences.
He voluntarily took part in the creation and operation of a WWII museum in Florida.
In 1997, thanks to Claude Lavielle's resolution, he was presented with a geniune borne of the Liberty Road, given by the Manche prefect, which is now in his museum's park. (On the dedication day, an American students group made up a choir and sang the French National Anthem in french.)
He organized four veteran trips to France (275 persons in 1984) and every time it was some meetings and exchanges with the population.
These bounds always remained. During the second war in Iraq, Frank took a stand in the French position and stated loud and clear, by interposed media, that, no, France had not forgotten the USA action back in 1944. He told on the radio and american newspapers about the warm welcoming of veterans in Normandy and affirmed relentlessly the friendship uniting the people of our two countries.
In 2000, while his friends Claude and Marie-Thérèse Lavieille were in Florida, he addressed to them as such :
« Soon, I will be too old to travel to France.
Then, who will visit my comrades buried in Normandy ?
Claude, you must do something. »
He was then behind the creation of « Les Fleurs de la Mémoire » whose he was sponsor, honorary member and supporting member.
He was also made honorary citizen of several French towns.
During his trip to France in 2009, he was awarded the French Légion d'Honneur.
The previous year he confided to his friends :
« That is my last wish ».
He came back in Normandy in April 2010 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of « Les Fleurs de la Mémoire » on the occasion of the Congress in Cabourg.
(1) To this day, more than 10,000 graves are adopted through « Les Fleurs de la Mémoire ».
Frank lived in Gainesville, Florida, where he passed away on July, 4.
He is survived by Mary, his wife of 73 years. They had 4 chlidren, Frank, Jane, Anne and Kathy ; four grandchildren then five great-grandchildren would come make their live more beautiful.
Frank was born in Boston, Massachusetts on June 13, 1917 where he lived for ten years. Then he lived in Vermont, in Saint- Johnsbury where he graduated from the Academy. He then became a mediator for the Commercial Credit Corp.
Later, he joined the Vermont National Guard. Trained at CAMP BLANDING, Florida, near Starke. This is where he met Mary Olive Thomas whom he married on March 1, 1943 in Macon, Georgia.
While promoted as an officer in the US Army, he was assigned to the 30th Infantry Division which was just designated to be a part of the WWII fighting. From then on, he became and remained a liaison officer all through the duration of the fighting which explains why he knew the Norman woody countryside small roads he often drove in jeep.
If we chose to gather this morning to pay homage to him, that is first because it is the first village he liberated. He took part in Operation COBRA which, after Saint-Lô was liberated, enabled the US troops to break through Normandy towards Brittany, then in the hard fighting in Mortain. His combat led him to Domfront, Evreux, in the Bulge, then in Belgium, he took part in the liberation of Maastricht and finally in Germany until the end of the War.
During this period of time, he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for wounds fighting the enemy and the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for valor.
He retired from the Army as a major.
He was later awarded :
The French Croix de Guerre
The Belgian fourragère
The Dutch Queen's Medal which makes him a member of the Orange-Nassau royal family
The Memorial Cross of Holland
The French Légion d'Honneur he was awarded in Mortain in June 2009
After the war, Frank came back in Europe with his wife, within the framework of American occupation in Germany, this is, by the way, where three of his children were born. When he returned to the USA, he settled down in Brooker, Florida, close to Mary's parents' farm where the fourth child was born : Kathy. He would stay here until the end of his life on July 4.
He first ran a small grocery for 12 years then had some experiences as a deputy manager at the Alachua County school and later at the University of Florida from where he retired in 1979.
Yet retired, he remained active, he decided he would dedicate his live to the leitmotif LEST WE FORGET and committed to sharing the Memory of the 30th Infantry Division being unwilling the ones who gave their all to be forgotten
He became the National Chairman of the 30th Infantry Division from WWII Association, then the experienced historian of the latter.
He took part in the creation and operation of a WWII museum in Camp Blanding.
But I would like to go back to what reunites us this morning and bring some facts back to your mind.
Frank Towers, with two veterans, comes in Normandy so as to prepare a trip for 30th US Infantry Division veterans upon the 40th anniversary of D-Day which is due the next year.
He goes to the Town Hall in St-Jean-de-Daye whichis the first town liberated by the 30th US Infantry Division. The mayor then calls Marie-Thérèse Lavieille in as an interpreter during this interview.
That evening, the Lavieilles invited the the Americans at their place to talk about their trip.
The friendship between the Lavieille and Towers families was born. It would only grow along the years.
In September 1984, he Americans travel to Normandy. It's a success : seven buses, more than 300 persons, some veterans and their families are welcomed in St-Jean-de-Daye.
This would be reproduced in 1989 and 1994, leading to strong and warm bonds between the veterans and St-Jean-de-Daye inhabitants.
Then, no more package tours would be organized due to the veterans age, however, Frank Towers still comes, at least every two years. He wants to visit his comrades' graves in Colleville and St James. Every time, he stays at the Lavieilles with those who accompany him - either brothers in arms or familiy members – and the bonds tighten.
In September 2000, pardon me Marie-Thérèse for this public indiscretion, the Lavieilles spent a few days at the Towers, in Florida. When the time to leave comes, Frank said : «I'm getting old now and soon I will no longer be able to visit the graves of my brothers in arms resting in Normandy. In the Netherlands, the graves are laid flowers on by individuals. Claude, couldn't you get something done in Normandy?»
The idea will grow. As soon he got back home, he contacts his friends and several officials. He gets a very positive response, even enthusiastic.
In December 2000, Claude organizes a first meeting in St Lô. There are several volunteers, the board of directors is rapidly created and Claude suggests a name for the new association « Les Fleurs de la Mémoire » are created. Registered office at the Departemental Council in Saint Lô, administrative office in St-Jean-de-Daye. The association appeared in the official journal on Januart 27, 2001.
The association determines one first challenge : 500 graves adopted in 2001. More than 2,000 will be adopted!
We all know that, Claude, the founder, would leave in October 2005.
Frank would keep on coming regularly in Normandy to reflect. A ritual : a symbolic gesture to take some sand in his hand, on the beach in Vierville, where he landed and where so many of his comrades died. So many images, so much odor, so much sufferings must have suddenly reappeared in his mind !
While he visited, he did not content himself with going to places of Remembrance, he wanted these crosses and Stars of David in the two cemeteries in Normandy to be , as Albert Scweitzer said, some real Peace preacher.
He, with the association, was able, many times, to visit some schools, junior highs, to meet young people. HE led them, according to how old they were, to think about the meaning and fragility of the words PEACE and LIBERTY. Sow so that the desire to act for nothing like it happen again germinates in the minds of our youth. In this way, in front of hundreds of children with simplicity, huimility and conviction he testified of the necessity to make sure we maintain the vital vigilance for this PEACE and LIBERTY that we enjoy today in Europe thanks to men like him.
Words like these of Winston Churchill :
«Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it»
Or these of Paul VI :
« The sleep of death of so many victims be a warning for next generations so that they remember such horrors must never happen again. »
Yes, such words have been his leitmotif, enriching at the mercy of questions, the thought of those who, in the USA, in France, in Belgium, in the Netherlands were fortunate to hear him.
In the minds of these people and many more, Frank, as a real Peace ambassador, sowed, I'm sure of it, in young minds for today, more than yesterday but less than tomorrow spring and reverberate some Peace momentum.
Having accompany him, a sentence from Pierre Flourens, a member of the French Academy in the 19th century, comes to my mind. It summarizes pretty well, if not perfectly the message he wanted to deliver :
« Man need to know, what needs to be said to him, it is that he has a free strength ; that this strenght must not diminish ; and the individual whom it diminishes in, whatever the philosophy he takes shelter under, is an individual who deteriorate. »
Isn't it still necessary, today, to carry on with Frank's work ? He who, as a tireless ambassador of Peace and Fraternity between people ended each visits this way :
« Plus jamais ça ! »
« Lest we forget »
This morning we will all leave armed with your message and the duty that is ours.
Words by Christophe Lavieille.