War Comes To Town
Wednesday June 7, 1944
in and around the village of le Mesnil-Vigot
was no different than the past 4 years as
France had been occupied by the Germans.
There were rumors of liberation since early
spring but after years of hope it was just
north of le Mesnil-Vigot at the settlement la
Colentinerie that straddled the road that
ran between Perries and St. Lo. The war
came to la Colentinerie at noon June 7th.
The Germans had started a convoyed early
that morning leaving Etienville with 150
American Paratroopers as guests of the
Germans. These were the men who had been
dropped short of their Drop Zones early in
the morning of June 6, 1944.
The trucks they road in
had no markings at all stating that these
were POWs. After heading south they turned
onto the highway Perries and St. Lo. They
took a left towards St. Lo. Just as the
convoy passed through la Colentinerie Allied
Planes strafed the column. The Germans
jumped out in the ditches on either side of
the road but refused the American POWs the
same luxury. The lead truck in the column
was the US POW officers.
Several of those men
were either wounded or killed in the first
strafing run. After the first run the
Paratroopers bailed out into the nearest
covered area if possible. Some of the
officers who had been wounded weren’t able
to get out of the truck due to their wounds
either during the strafing or an injury from
the day before.
There were two more
strafing runs that occurred with more
soldiers being killed and wounded. One of
the men wounded was
Corporal Ben McKeeby. McKeeby had been
First Sergeant for Company B 307th
Airborne Engineer Battalion (Combat) for
both Sicily and Italy Jumps.
McKeeby lost his rank
for the following reason; when Company B
left Italy they landed in Northern Ireland.
First Sergeant McKeeby and another Staff
Sergeant crossed over to Ireland which was
neutral in WWII. Ben McKeeby went to visit
a relative there. When they got back
McKeeby was busted to Private. By the time
they were ready to jump into Normandy he had
gotten back to Corporal.
After the strafing was
over another Company B soldier
Corporal Tom Goins found McKeeby lying
by the side of the road. Goins dropped down
to check McKeeby’s wound. Goins saw that
McKeeby was shot in the lung. He pulled
him up into a sitting position trying to
help Ben to breath.
Tom said that
Ben tried to talk but nothing came out
and he died a few seconds later. 19 other
men died in that strafing as well and there
are a few more accounts to follow.
This article is about 2
of the men who were in the June 7, 1944
strafing. The two men mentioned here were
Tom Goins and Ben McKeeby both Corporals
going into Normandy.
McKeeby tried to join the Navy in 1939
but was rejected, the reason? When
they shaved his head the barber asked what
was that mark in the back of his head.
Ben told them that when he was 17 he and a
buddy went out hunting for woodchucks. Ben was
a little in front of his friend. His friend
was just about to fire at a woodchuck but Ben
stood to shoot at the same time.
He was shot in the back
on the head and it didn’t come out. His
sister said that it took a few years for Ben
to get back to normal as the doctors had
told them he was never going to be right
again. But Ben proved them wrong becoming
the First Sergeant for Company B as a
Paratrooper. When they shaved his head in
the Army when and asked about the mark on
the back of his head he said it was a
Tom Goins the other person in the
article grew up as an Okie as he called
himself. He like Ben jumped into Sicily and
Italy. After the war Tom told me
matter-of-factly that for the first year or
two after the war his wife said he woke up
screaming about the strafing. Tom ended up
outside of Bremerton, Washington in ship
construction. Tom sold Christmas Trees
every year as well.
Tom died of Mesothelioma February 12, 2008
due to the Asbestos he worked with for 40
plus years at the shipyards.
Brian N. Siddall
June 18, 2023