Lagny le Sec, France (NNCNOW.com) - Across the Atlantic, in a small French village, an American airman from Duluth is celebrated as a hero.
Floyd Lauletta joined the Air Force in 1942 and two years later was declared missing in action and presumed dead.
More than half a century later Floyd's family learned that he and his crew had been shot down while flying missions in support of the French Resistance.
The village built a monument to honor the eight airmen killed and every year they hold a special ceremony.
This year, for the first time, Floyd's extended family attended the service in France.
From school children to elderly veterans the citizens of Lagny le Sec gather every year on V–E Day to honor those who died to liberate them from their German occupation.
On July 4th, 1944 a B–24 Liberator was shot down over the village and all eight crew men were killed. Among the crew was turret gunner Floyd Lauletta.
Floyd’s great nephew, Jim Rich, attended the ceremony this year and said the opportunity to lay flowers on Floyd’s grave really hit home.
Rich was accompanied by his wife, their two children and their spouses for the special celebration on 70th anniversary of Floyd's death.
Joan Rich said “The service was amazing. It was such a memorable event for all of our family to be here.”
The villagers and their children turned out en masse for the moving ceremony.
Lagny le Sec Mayor Didier Doucet spoke to the family at the ceremony saying “The Rich family, your Great Uncle Floyd Lauletta was one of the crew members of the B–24 that crashed on this night, July 1944 near our village. We are very honored by your presence.”
Jim and Joan took their family to France because they believe it's critically important that we all remember the sacrifices made by so many to keep America free.
Jim and Joan’s kids were very impressed.
“It was a wonderful service. Amazing turn–out.”
“The number of people, the number of children, was just inspiring to see them not only celebrating and remembering but sharing the story with the next generation.”
“What struck me the most is that 70 years after, we see them celebrate these men.”
70 years have passed but there are still some in Lagny le Sec who remember the day Floyd and his crew were shot down.
87-year-old Gerard Marcq was living in Lagny le Sec at the time of the plane crash.
“I was going to bed and heard the noise of a plane engine and saw a very big light so I jumped up.”
Marcq says he knew immediately what had happened and rushed to the crash site to see if there were any survivors.
“The German army was there and they shot at him saying get out of there because they had no right to be there.”
Michel Vandorpe was also there the night of the crash. He was a member of the French Resistance carrying an American pistol. He too went to the crash site.
“Went to the plane and apparently the pilot or the co–pilot was still living. At the time the Germans were close by and they shot to the sky.”
All eight American crew members would be dead by morning. It's this ultimate sacrifice that makes the citizens of Lagny le Sec turn out year after year to honor Floyd Lauletta and his companions.
Mayor Doucet said “The Americans which were there in the U–K, to come over France, all of the enemy territories, with their bombers or with their fighters played really a great role for the liberation of Europe.”
A great role that will not soon be forgotten.