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Closing the Circle:  Kaye Weninger and the “Locust Valley Group” Make a Pilgrimage to Ste. Mere Eglise

In 2006, the Chamber of Commerce’s Kaye Weninger, Locust Valley resident Cathy Soref and her three children, Maryn, Rylan, and Colton made a whirlwind pilgrimage to Ste. Mere Eglise, the Norman town our hamlet adopted as part of the postwar reconstruction effort Operation Democracy, and the D-Day Mecca for WWII historians and re-enactment enthusiasts.  Dubbed affectionately “The Locust Valley Group” by the locals, they found themselves the guests of honor at a party hosted by Maurice Renaud, son of the wartime mayor.  He had been so touched by his reception in February here and by the dedication of the plaque on Forest Avenue that bears his mother’s poem of thanks to Locust Valley, that on June 5th, he organized a fete in the garden of the house that had been the headquarters of the German commandant when Ste Mere Eglise was under occupation.  Replete with signs saying “Merci Locust Valley,” a buffet concocted by his childhood friend Gerard and Gisele Lecoeur, and dancers in traditional Normandy attire from the 1800s, the party featured as its star attraction WWII pathfinder Bob Murphy.  A member of the first battalion, 505 “A” company, Murphy had fought to take the La Fiere bridge and manor on the night of June 5th-6th, and has achieved celebrity status in Ste Mere Eglise; he’s featured prominently in the Airborne Museum there, and the day before a couple of the active duty American officers in attendance had participated in a five-nation parachute drop over his former battlefield.  “Meeting a genuine hero was the highlight of my trip,” Kaye said.  “I’d seen the re-enactment on the church square of the battle to liberate the town and the next day I would visit the cemetery at Omaha Beach, but speaking to Bob Murphy brought home to me what really happened on D-Day in 1944.  I understand now why a whole new generation is interested in re-enacting events from that night, taking care that we never forget.” 

The June 5th party also enabled Kaye to complete her mission of reaffirming Locust Valley’s past connection to Ste. Mere Eglise.  She carried with her an embossed citation signed by Oyster Bay’s Supervisor John Venditto, which she presented to a clearly delighted Assemblyman Dr. Claude Gatignol (the equivalent of an American Congressman).  He promised to see that it was exhibited in the Airborne Museum.

The Locust Valley contingent also encountered local residents who recalled the days when Locust Valley furnished them with schoolbooks, candy, shoes, and clothes.  Maurice’s brother Henri-Jean, freshly returned from a trip to Peru, dropped in to the B&B where the Sorefs and Doug Stebleton, producer of the Mother of Normandy project, who first alerted this paper to the Locust Valley-Ste Mere Eglise connection, were staying.  “Oh, I recall a typical American suit I wore.  It was bright green.  I thought Locust Valley must like green.”  Another gentleman came up to Kaye in the square and kissed her, saying, “We love Locust Valley.  I had a sweater that I wore every day when I was little, and I’d boast to the American soldiers who were stationed here that I was wearing an American sweater.” Kaye was struck by his gratitude:  “He didn’t think of it as a hand-me-down.  He truly valued it.”

Everywhere the Locust Valley group went in Normandy, the American and French flags were flying together.  Jeff Stoffer, who was along to do a story for American Legion Magazine, was struck by the way the American flags occasionally flew above the French ones on flagpoles.  He and the others interpreted that as an indication of how deeply the pro-American sentiments run in that part of France.

--Marion C. Wood

above: Cathy Soref and Kaye Weninger at the gravesite of Teddy Roosevelt Jr.

below: Church in Ste Mere Eglise where a paratrooper manaquin remains hanging commemorating the liberation of Ste Mere Eglise from Germany in WWII.

above: Mayor Le Fevre, Kaye Weninger and Rylan Soref
above: Isabelle Breasted and Maurice Renaud at the dedication of a bronze plaque in Locust Valley, commemorating the work of Isabelle's mother, Martha Breasted, in starting "Operation Democracy" by adopting Ste. Mere Eglise, and the poem written in gratitude by Maurice's mother, Madame Simone Renaud, reprinted on Madame Renaud page.
above: Memorial of Mayor Alexandre Renaud, Ste. Mere Eglise

above: Maurice Renauld, Colton Soref, WWII Paratrooper Bob Murphy, Rylan Soref

above: Colton and Rylan Soref

above: (L-R) Andy Keavey, Kathleen Wickham, Robert Snyder, Cathy Soref and Kaye Weninger visit Ste Mere Eglise for D-Day celebrations.

below: Soldiers come to re-enact the events of June 6, 1944

above: soldier parashoots into Ste Mere Eglise for re-enactment

above:soldiers visit American cemetary

 

 

above: Paul and Henri Jean Renaud, Bob Murphy, Maurice Renaud below: soldiers visit Omaha Beach
above: Henri Jean and Paul Renaud with Kaye Weninger