The people of Cerentan, France, and several soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division welcomed the Best Defense Foundation and 43 WWII veterans for a parade through the very streets the Allied forces liberated almost eight decades ago.
Staff Sgt. George Mullins was one of the soldiers that broke the Nazis’ grip on Carentan. The Best Defense Foundation’s mission is to take care of the ones who took care of us. As part of that mission, Mullins had a chance to obtain closure by visiting the old battleground he fought tooth and nail through the streets at 18 years of age.
Mullins is amazed by the city’s beauty. The last time he was there, fires raged, buildings destroyed, and the bodies of his brothers killed in action littered the area. Now, Mullins was able to see how far the city had come. Seeing children play in the streets where he fought the Nazis hit home for him.
Mullins’s caretaker, Jay Biancal, said the All-American glider infantryman’s health had prevented previous return trips. Biancal has been Mullin’s caretaker “for a very long time.” A veteran himself, Biancal knows how important it is for Mullins to return to Carentan.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what that’s like — what that feels like to see his eyes light up and the life come back into this man,” Biancal said.
The foundation’s group visited the Military Classic Auction, where they reunited with the machines they used to liberate Europe. Robert “Boots” Chouinard smiled when he saw the WWII vehicles and said it was like seeing an old friend.
“That was rather thrilling,” Chouinard said. “I never really got close to one, but it was similar to my caterpillar.”
An extraordinary event occurred before the 43 WWII veterans and their caretakers participated in a parade through town. 2 Lt. Betty L. Huffman-Rosevear saw Carentan for the first time, and what a day it was. She turned 102 years old and had hundreds of people sing happy birthday to her as the WWII veterans strolled down the streets in a parade.
“It was such a surprise,” Huffman-Rosevear said. “We saw so many people, and when they sang happy birthday, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Some of those people are big fans of Huffman-Rosevear. Several women wearing US Army Nurse Corps uniforms lined up to see her. Her fans traveled from all over the world to see her, and it reminded Huffman-Rosevear of how her friends used to ‘get together’ while deployed to the Philippines 79 years ago.
Saturday was jam-packed with laughter, smiles, and overall happiness. What stood out to Donnie Edwards, the founder of the foundation, is how many people travel from around the world to celebrate WWII veterans. In 2006, when Edwards started the first Battlefield Return Program, he saw how much the people of France love America’s WWII veterans.
“I never saw that before,” Edwards said. “ They go halfway across the world, and they connect with these veterans. They don’t even speak English, but they get dressed up in American uniforms […], and they are just enamored.”
Donnie and his wife Kathryn have unlimited passion for helping WWII veterans find closure on their old battlefields and creating joy from reuniting with their fellow veterans.
This is the fifth installation of a series of stories. Keep an eye on the foundation’s social media on Instagram: @bestdefensefoundation, Twitter: @bestdefense_, and Facebook: Best Defense Foundation.