For those seeking firsthand accounts of World War II, the melancholy fact is that fewer and fewer of its veterans are still around. That, however, hasn’t stopped Louisiana Public Broadcasting from taking a fresh look at a little-noted but pivotal part of D-Day.
LPB produced “Seize & Secure: The Battle for La Fiere,” which will air nationally on PBS at 8 p.m. Thursday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of German-held France. It is, according to LPB, the first documentary ever produced about this part of the massive invasion, which involved 150,000 Allied soldiers who came by air and sea.
In addition to commentary by historians Kevin W. Farrell and Robert M. Citino, “Seize & Secure” includes oral histories collected by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans from veterans who fought at the bloody battle.
“LPB has a long history of collaboration with the National WWII Museum, and we have over time been looking for ways to coordinate activities but also work together on projects, whether educational opportunities or documentaries,” said Christina Melton, LPB deputy director, who served as director and executive producer of this project. “We knew they were interested in working on a project to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. So, we began talking to them more than a year ago on possible stories.”
About 12 years ago, the museum did extensive interviews concerning La Fiere, even flying some veterans to the Normandy town for them to make observations about the battlefield where they had fought, Melton said. But a script never developed, and the project didn’t move forward until a year ago, when the desire for a 75th anniversary topic brought it to the front burner.
La Fiere was a small but important D-Day landmark because it included a bridge over the Merderet River and a causeway leading east. German defenders flooded the fields around the Merderet to hamper invaders’ mobility, particularly with their tanks and other armored vehicles that would be coming ashore from Utah Beach. The Germans also wanted the bridge to bring its own forces to counter the invasion.
To take that bridge, forces of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division were brought in by parachute jumps and gliders in the early D-Day darkness. Because of cloud cover and fierce German antiaircraft fire, most of those soldiers were scattered far from their designated drop zones, and some drowned in the flooded fields.
But enough were able to band together to attack their objective. The battle lasted over four days against fierce opposition.
“You couldn’t possibly tell all of the stories of valor and bravery surrounding this event because every single man who was there was fighting to the death and to live and to achieve their objective,” Melton said. “Every single person was exhibiting incredible bravery. That was one thing that was hard about this, not telling all of the stories of bravery, because there were so many. … I wish there were time to honor every single one of them.”
Only one of the La Fiere veterans who appear in the hourlong documentary is still alive, making the museum’s cooperation essential to the project, Melton said.
“If they had not captured these interviews … other than what’s written in commendations, there’s not a whole lot written about this,” she said.
C.E. Richard wrote the script. LPB’s Donald “D-Ray” Washington and Matt Hathcox were editors, with Washington serving as postproduction supervisor. Mark Harmon, star of the CBS drama “NCIS,” narrates.