At approximately 0140 hours on June 6th, 1944, paratroopers from the 505th Parachute infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division dropped into the French town of Sainte-Mère-Église as part of the D-Day Invasion. The regiment and their German adversaries suffered heavy casualties but eventually took control of the town. Many can recall the iconic image of paratrooper John Steele whose parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and could only observe the fighting going on below. He hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. The town continues to honor the role that the 82nd Airborne Division played in liberating the town, and many symbols and memorials remain that pay homage to the paratroopers.
Those that know me may remember my service with the 2/504 Parachute infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne, which launched my military career. The proud lineage of the “Eighty-deuce” was instilled in me at the onset, and the history of the unit is kept alive in many ways, including the names of the many training drop zones at Fort Bragg, NC, which bear the title of their WWII counterparts. So, in my airborne career, I have parachuted into “Sainte-Mère-Église” on more than a few occasions (the drop zone, not the actual French town).
Present day: enter Rhonda Parrish and submissions for her new anthology, Corvidae for World Weaver Press. The theme of the antho was speculative fiction in which birds of the corvidae family featured prominently. So inspired I was by the theme, and by Rhonda’s talent as a writer and an editor, that I felt compelled to write and contribute a story. Thankfully, after a rewrite, it was accepted and will be featured among this excellent group of writers: Corvidae table of contents.
“The Rookery of Sainte-Mère-Église” was inspired by WWII ruins that can still be found all over Europe where the battles occurred, and by the many war dead whose remains have yet to be recovered. My goal was to contrast a tale of young love against the grim history of the region, using rooks to connect the present with the past. Below is the short, unedited beginning:
“The Rookery of Sainte-Mère-Église” Excerpt
November morning. A Saturday. Thin branches of elm and poplar sagged beneath the weight of frozen rain. The sun pale behind the dampness, bleached out, sick.
Birgit wiped the wet hair from her eyes, trudged in her grandfather’s great rubber boots to the woodshed. Her footsteps crunched on the icy dew and her tiny feet almost slipped out. A clamor of angry cries greeted her as she came near. She opened the shed door, careful not to pull it from its one good hinge. The screech of the rusty iron was lost in the chaos of sound and feathers as dozens of black birds burst forth and took to the air. She ducked and covered her head, could feel the warm air beneath their wingbeats, could smell their little bodies mixed with the pine of the woodpile.
Rooks, her grandfather had told her. Sheltering from the cold.