Cov­ing­ton man’s fa­ther helped lib­er­ate Paris

The Covington News - - LOCAL - JAN PHILLIPS jphillips@cov­ Dar­rell Everidge /The Cov­ing­ton News

To all but the most ar­dent of his­tory buffs, the date Aug. 25 prob­a­bly does not ring any bells. It’s just an­other late-sum­mer scorcher, or per­haps a re­minder that Christ­mas is only four months away.

But for Wil­liam D. Hay of Cov­ing­ton, to­day, the 69th an­niver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Paris from Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion in World War II, hits very close to home, thanks to some re­mark­able pho­to­graphs he found among his late fa­ther’s things.

Like many World War II vet­er­ans, Army pri­vate first class Odus Daniel Hay didn’t talk much about his war ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I guess he was just leav­ing it in the past,’’ his son said.

Though his fa­ther would an­swer ques­tions about the war when asked, the scope of what he wit­nessed and his own role in his­tory was quite a sur­prise to his son.

The sepia-toned pho­tos Wil­liam Hay found clearly show what his­tory books record: On the day that French re­sis­tance and Al­lied soldiers lib­er­ated Paris, Aug. 25, 1944, the streets were filled with cheer­ing throngs. In one photo of Paris’ iconic Arch de Tri­umphe, the tat­tered rem­nants of a swastika ban­ner can be seen.

The pho­tos prompted Hay to re­search his fa­ther’s ser­vice in the war.

In a 1945 pub­li­ca­tion, “196th Field Ar­tillery Bat­tal­ion,’’ edited by Mas­ter Sgt. Meyer H. Weiss, he read, “On 18 Aug. ’44, we were re­lieved from at­tach­ment to the Pro­vi­sional Ranger Group and as­signed to V Corps. Early on the morn­ing of Aug. 24 we re­ceived or­ders to re­sume the march on Paris. The col­umn en­tered the city shortly af­ter noon on Aug. 25. The French peo­ple show­ered us with fruits, wines and flow­ers to show their joy at lib­er­a­tion. In places, the crowds were so dense that we had to halt to keep from hit­ting some­one.’’

It con­tin­ues, “The bat­tal­ion took up a po­si­tion a block north of the Arch near the French Nazi head­quar­ters. Off the record, Odus ‘Otis’ Daniel Hay and a few oth­ers from For­ward Bat­tery A raided the build­ing. It ap­pears to have been al­lowed un­der a ‘spe­cial op­er­a­tions’ pro­vi­sion of V Corps. Typ­i­cal of the French fas­cist bu­reau­cracy, the of­fi­cers were aban­doned and the records de­stroyed.’’

As the mas­ter sergeant’s ac­count goes on to make clear, not all was wine and roses for the V Corps that day or in the days that fol­lowed.

“It would not be the last spe­cial op­er­a­tion,’’ the 1945 ac­count con­tin­ues. “The next two days were spent clear­ing the dis­trict of Ger­man snipers that re­mained in the city. V Corps spent only three days in Paris and was the first di­vi­sion to cross into Ger­many. The ac­tions of that win­ter would be­come known to his­tory as The Bat­tle of the Bulge.’’

Learn­ing more about the Bat­tle of the Bulge is Wil­liam Hay’s next pro­ject. He knows his fa­ther served in the Army from Oc­to­ber 1943 to Oc­to­ber 1945, be­fore re­turn­ing to Cov­ing­ton to live and raise his fam­ily.

And he re­mem­bers his fa­ther’s sto­ries of that gru­el­ing win­ter cam­paign, and of ground so frozen that soldiers were some­times pinned in their sleep­ing bags.

He also plans to make sure that his fa­ther’s pho­to­graphs are handed over to ei­ther the Pen­tagon or per­haps a his­tory mu­seum, to be pre­served as part of Amer­i­can his­tory.

Army Pfc. Odus Daniel Hay, fa­ther of Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent Wil­liam D. Hay, was part of the march on Paris 69 years ago to­day.

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