France announced Tuesday the death of one of the few surviving members of the legendary unit of French resistance soldiers who fought alongside American and British troops on the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
Jean Masson died on Saturday aged 95, meaning only three members of the original First French Marine Rifles Battalion led by the Free French commander Philippe Kieffer are still alive, the D-Day Overlord website said.
When World War II broke out, Masson quit France and was imprisoned for a time in Spain before being able to reach England.
After joining the Free French recruits for training in Scotland, the Kieffer Commando unit stormed the Sword Beach sector at Colleville-sur-Orne, where Masson was seriously injured by a mortar shell.
“He nevertheless returned to keep fighting in the Netherlands and into Germany,” the Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement.
“I had to swim while holding my rifle out of the water before my feet could touch the ground,” Masson recalled in a French television interview. “But I hadn’t come all that way to stay in the hold.”
The 177 commando members were the first French uniformed troops to set foot on French soil since Paris capitulated to Germany in June 1940.
Yet they were only granted France’s highest award, the Legion of Honour, 60 years later in 2004 -- General Charles De Gaulle had long considered them a British unit.
Historians have suggested De Gaulle may have been miffed at being largely excluded from D-Day plans by British and American military leaders.
“In tribute to this brave soldier. My condolences to his family and relatives,” secretary of state for the armed forces Genevieve Darrieussecq said on Twitter.
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