Former GI drops back in on helpful milkmaid
September 28, 2003
On June 6, 1944, shortly after Bill Paty landed in Normandy, the 23-year-old Army captain found himself huddled next to a French milkmaid, asking if any Germans were nearby.
With a nod of her head, 17-year-old Augustine Ferey pointed out an enemy patrol, which gave Paty just enough time to drop behind a hedgerow and start shooting, he said.
“I never expected in my lifetime to ever see her again,” Paty said.
In mid-September after telling that story for nearly 60 years, Paty returned to France and met with the woman, thanks in part to the efforts of her nephew Thierry Ferey, a dairy farmer with a keen interest in D-Day history.
After the meeting, Paty and Ferey spoke with Stars and Stripes over the telephone.
Paty, 82, was then commander of Company A, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, a unit of paratroops that airdropped onto the base of the Cotentin Peninsula alongside the 101st Airborne Division. Their objective was to secure the lock at La Barquette, near the mouth of the Douve River just north of Carentan, he said.
But heavy ground fire forced pilots into evasive maneuvers that resulted in scattered landings for the paratroops, Paty said.
“Our 1st Battalion was dropped probably the farthest off course,” Paty said. “We were about eight miles from La Barquette.”
A 1942 Cornell University graduate who earned his commission through Reserve Officer Training Corps program, Paty had fewer than a dozen men when he landed among Normandy’s hedgerows.
The morning of the invasion, when he crawled out to Augustine Ferey and her milk cow, the Hawaii native mustered a greeting in his best high school French.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle, je suis un American officer.”
When Paty asked about the Germans, the young woman did not speak, only nodded her head in the direction of an enemy patrol coming up a nearby road, Paty said.
A firefight ensued, but the U.S. troops were outnumbered, Paty said. He took a bullet to the hip and was taken captive that afternoon, he said.
The Germans took Paty first to a prison hospital in Reims, then by train to a prison camp in Poland. He later escaped with the help of Russian troops, he said. After the war, he returned to Hawaii, but never forgot meeting the milkmaid among the hedgerows.
“My aunt, when the fight began, went to the home of another aunt,” Ferey said. “The Germans saw her give information to Americans and tried to find them.”
German soldiers apprehended Augustine and Therese Ferey — the other aunt — and held them captive at a local church, Ferey said. The young women thought they would be shot or taken to a camp, he said.
Later, a friendly German officer argued that the teens were merely innocent civilians and arranged for them to flee captivity, Ferey said.
Ferey, 38, grew up hearing that story and in his spare time began researching the U.S.-led invasion. Through the 101st Airborne Division Association, he found Paty.
“I read in a few books that he was around the church where my father’s family lived during D-Day. It was exactly the same story I heard … about,” Ferey said. “I could not believe that I found the man who crawled near my aunt.”
On Monday, Paty held hands with Ferey’s aunt in the same spot where she had warned him of danger.
“You couldn’t imagine my happiness and my joy when I saw this meeting,” Ferey said. “It was like a dream.”