UPDATE: 551 TRIP TO SOUTHERN FRANCE FOR 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF OPERATION DRAGOON
Good day everyone! I’m am thrilled to share with you that after my initial email blast and Facebook post about the trip we had 8 families respond they will attend. We have 4 rooms still available and looking into additional rooms at a nearby hotel in case more family members decide to join us.
We have a hold on rooms at the hotel until November 30th. You only need to give a credit card number to hold the room. The deposit doesn’t need to be made until June. I will send an update with information on a second hotel.
Please email Pam Scott at Pam@elitetravelpros.com. She can answer any questions regarding travel and hotel rooms. Once you get to Draguignan you days (Aug 14, 15, 16, 17) will be full of memories and honor of our fathers and grandfathers. We are lining up bus transport to all of the ceremonies as well as lunches and a few dinners.
Please feel free to email me if you want any additional details.
Cheryl Dillard Staurulakis President 551 Parachute Infantry Association Daughter of Col Douglas C. Dillard, A Company E. firstname.lastname@example.org P. 410-703-8269 AIRBORNE ALL THE WAY - GOYA! ... See More from 551See Less from 551
Happy Veterans Day with gratitude to all of those who answered the call of our Nation for their sacrifices, and an extra shout out to the last surviving veteran of the 551st PIB, Ernest Scango (B Company). We would also like to offer our continued prayers and condolences on this Veterans Day to the families of the GOYA heroes we lost since last Veterans Day…the last surviving member of C Company for the 551st, John Bellefontaine, and the last surviving member of HQ Company, who was also the last member to have served in Panama, Lloyd Willis. SALUTE!!
"So here’s to our comrades, buried far and near! And here’s to our Colonel, who loved us all so dear! And here’s to you, Buddy – and you – and you! And here’s to all of us, when it’s over and it’s through!" - Dan Morgan (Last stanza of 'The GOYA's' - LCOMH)
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." -- George Washington.
History of Veterans Day;
"World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…""
Ernest Scango, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Scango of Throop, PA, born on 8 January 1923, is with us still today as the last known surviving member of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. He married his wife, Mary Malski, just after joining the Army on 7 February 1944 at St. Mary's Church in Dickson City, PA. He and Mary then immediately moved to North Carolina to join the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion at Camp Mackall. Their daughter said that the extra paratroop pay, along with additional furlough were influencers in her parent’s decision to join the paratroopers. Ernest departed for WWII in late April of 1944 as a member of Baker Company for the 551st. His original combat unit, the 551st PIB, suffered over an 83% casualty rate by the end of the Battle of the Bulge. They were an independent parachute battalion, one of only two independent parachute battalions to see combat in the European theater during WWII. The other being the 509th. As an independent battalion they not only had to fight the enemy, but they also had to fight for supplies, support, and even recognition. The 551st disbanded following their time in the Bulge. Many of their personal records were lost, destroyed, or left behind as they were rapidly absorbed into the 82nd Airborne. Ernest Scango ended up in the 504th. Following the War it would be over half a century before many details of his service were talked about in his home.
Ernest's daughter, Linda Fieldhouse, said they knew a few details of her dad’s service during WWII, like what unit he was with, but not much else. It was like a window with an incredible view had been painted over and sealed shut in the Scango home. Over the years, however, that seal began to crack, as Ernest and Mary Scango welcomed a grandson to their world. As the grandson began to get older he became more and more curious as he started asking more and more questions about his grandfather’s service. Eventually that window became unsealed and slowly opened. Stories then flowed through that window that were hard to believe. Mr. Scango was a member of a “Lost Battalion” of WWII. He spoke of picking oranges from groves while training in Sicily, picking grapes from the vineyard at their drop zone at Chateau de Valbourges in Southern France and so on. Their jump into Southern France was the first battalion-sized daylight combat drop in US Army history, and took place just after six pm on 15 August 1944, the day of the Southern France Invasion for Operation Dragoon. They were a part of the First Airborne Task Force. Within 48 hours of getting boots on the ground the first large city in the Invasion fell to the 551st PIB, Draguignan.
Ernest Scango shared stories of Draguignan with his family. One involved coming upon a general and his staff. The 551st, led by an “A” company patrol captured Major General Ludwig Bieringer and is credited as the first capture of a German General in the European Theater during WWII. The 551st also ran across General Neuling at Draguignan, but he refused to surrender to the 551st. It’s difficult to say with certainty which general and staff it was that Scango encountered that day. Mr. Scango did share with his daughter that a bullet pinged off his helmet at one point taking the farmhouse where the general was. He also relayed that he and his fellow GOYAs were overjoyed upon entering the home and learning that a beautiful roast was in the oven. An orderly of the general took him to the general’s quarters where Scango ended up acquiring a pristine pistol of the general's that was also engraved. He brought the pistol home with him but ended up selling it for $10 to purchase a TV antenna during some tough financial times. Linda also relayed from her father that, "when they captured the General, my dad gave one of the prisoners some grapes because the man was crying and very distraught." The grapes were from the vineyard at Valbourges following their jump.
After Draguignan the 551st joined the 509th and helped to liberate Cannes before being the first American unit to enter the French resort city of Nice. Following Nice the 551st spent an extended period of front-line duty in the French Alps. One cold night in the Alps Mr. Scango and a few other troopers were sent on a patrol by Capt Evans, an event that Evans spoke about in 'The Left Corner of My Heart', a unit history of the 551st woven together by Dan Morgan. The patrol got separated and Ernest, along with two others, fortunately, ran upon a little shepherd’s hut to spend the night in. When they made it back to camp the next morning the men at the camp were overjoyed, as they couldn’t believe they made it back alive. Soon after his Alps experience the 551st was pulled off the line for some R&R to Laon, France. They were just getting settled in at Laon as all furlough was suddenly canceled. Word came down to make ready and prepare for combat as the Germans made a surprise rush to Antwerp through the Ardennes of Belgium. The 551st numbered 752 officers and enlisted as of 30 November 1944. Following their final battle during the Bulge at Rochelinval on 7 January 1945 only 110 were able to continue. One of those was Ernest Scango, who ended up in D company of the 504th 82nd Airborne Division the evening of 27 January 1945, following Gen Gavin's visit to the 551st that same morning in Juslenville, Belgium. Ernest told his daughter that news of being disbanded came by word of mouth for him. B Company was quartered in nearby Theux while the remainder of the Battalion was in Juslenville following Rochelinval.
A little more than 60 years following WWII Mr. Scango was encouraged by a neighbor to contact the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) regarding medals and commendations. The return package included a Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver service star, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge 1st Award, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar, Parachutist Badge and a Bronze Star. Mr. Scango was shocked. Well, the last surviving member of the heroic 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, 100-year-old Ernest Scango, is set to receive one additional award. He was nominated as a Knight in the Legion of Honor by the French Republic for his service, France’s highest distinction.
Much gratitude to Ernest Scango for his service during WWII and to the Republic of France for recognizing this hero of ours...some well deserved recognition. We are grateful for those who never forget...in this case we further appreciate the efforts and coordination of Mr. Frederick Sanchez in honoring this shared hero of both his country and ours. The French Legion of Honor is the highest French decoration, and one of the most famous decorations in the world. It was originally established as the Royal Order of the Legion of Honour in 1802 by Napolean Bonaparte...GOYA!!
Some highlights/history regarding the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion:
The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was essentially stood up at Fort Benning in December of '42 but trained up in Panama starting in January of '43 as an independent parachute battalion, or a regiment with only first battalion ever being filled. C Company of the 501st joined them in Panama. The 501 guys would argue the other way around. They were training to jump on Martinique, a known U-boat base held by the Vichy French; however, the island was surrendered prior to the jump and that mission went away.
-Their next stop was Camp Mackall, where they became the only US parachute battalion to jump from gliders. They were chosen to essentially test a force multiplication proof of concept for the US Army involving gliders being used as a delivery system for additional paratrooper boots on the ground, which brought to light more problems than solutions as they discovered it was more like falling out of the gliders than jumping from them…
-They were deployed to the European theater in April of '44 and brought up to full Battalion-strength in Sicily. It was a short stay for them as they took full advantage of some grueling training while there. The 551st was ordered to Rome to join the First Airborne Task Force for Operation DRAGOON in early July...a force to be commanded by General Frederick, who would later be known as the Purple Heart General after receiving 8 Purple Hearts throughout WWII.
-The 551st jumped into Southern France the evening of the invasion in broad daylight on 15 August 1944 around 1810. Within 48 hours they had taken the first large city in the Southern France Invasion... Draguignan. At Draguignan they also nabbed the first German General, General Bierenger, and located his boss as well, General Nueling. From there they joined up with the 509 to help liberate Cannes and was the first American unit to enter the city of Nice, although the FFI had driven the Germans out the night prior, so they were mainly insurance the Germans wouldn't come back.
-Following Nice the 551st, a unit originally trained in Panama for jungle warfare, was sent to the Maritime Alps of France joining up with the 550th Glider Bn, and the 509 once again, for an extended holding position against the Austrian 5th Hochgebirgesjager Division to help protect the right flank of the 7th Army. They were relieved by the 100th of the 442nd on 17 November 1944 of their duties under the Purple Heart General by the Purple Heart Battalion (the 100th was nicknamed the Purple Heart Battalion due to the number of Purple Hearts awarded to a unit their size). Of note, a month earlier, the 100th rescued the Lost Battalion (1BN 141st infantry) in the Vosges mountains of France just prior to relieving the 551st in the French Alps...of course the 551st was also a unit that would come to be known as a Lost Battalion of WWII, but for different reasons.
-The 551st then moved to Laon, France for R&R and possibly regroup when all furlough was cancelled, as the Germans initiated the Bulge in a drive to Antwerp in December of '44. The 551st was quickly called back to action, initially attached to the 30th ID, then the 82nd.
-The 551st performed the first offensive raid in force for Allied forces during the Bulge at Noirefontaine in order to gather intel, and to gauge the German's reactions.
-The 551st then spearheaded the Northern Allied Counteroffensive for the Battle of the Bulge. They teamed up with the 505th of the 82nd and the 517th RCT to lead the counter-offensive on 3 January 1945. The 551st was in the center. A few days later A company participated in a company-sized bayonet attack at Dairomont, near Rochelinval. Then, with only about 300 strong the 551st was ordered to attack well fortified Rochelinval, in which they successfully accomplished, taking over 300 prisoners as well. The 551st was also battling the elements, just about every member of the 551st suffered some degree of frostbite, or frozen feet. Twenty-five men died of acute hypothermia, they literally froze to death...fell asleep and never woke up.
-In the end only about 110 could continue following Rochelinval and they were informed by Gen Gavin in person, in Juslenville, that they were going to be disbanded and absorbed into the 82nd Airborne. They were officially disbanded on 10 February 1945. The remnants of the Battalion were transferred to different units of the 82nd, mainly the 504, 505 and the 508. Many of their personnel records were either lost, left behind or destroyed, leading them to later be nicknamed a Lost Battalion of WWII. Their Commanding Officer, LTC Joerg, was also KIA at Rochlinval on the morning of the attack, 7 January 1945. They received the Presidential Unit Citation in 2001 at an incredible ceremony at the Pentagon, over 55 years later, for their actions during the Bulge. They had suffered an 83% casualty rate...
A great opportunity to honor the legacy of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, as well as their brothers from the other units who served alongside of them in the First Airborne Task Force, by memorializing their Commander for Operation Dragoon...the Purple Heart General. Over half of the 551st PIB's combat experience fell under the Command of General Frederick and the First Airborne Task Force.
On August 15, 2024, the 551st PIB is going to be recognized in a special way for its contributions to freedom in southern France. Residents who live in the region liberated by the First Airborne Task Force will be unveiling a bronze statue of General Frederick, with the units of the FABTF honored on the base of the statue. They want to make sure future generations never forget the Americans who gave them their freedom. They welcome your support (below), and your attendance at the Liberation Day commemorations! ... See More from 551See Less from 551
The Association just learned of the passing of the last known surviving member of the 551st PIB to have served with the 551st PIB in Panama...all of the original GOYAs were fully mustered on 9 September 2023 on their final DZ. Mr. Willis was an original member of the 551st. After departing the 551st, while the 551st was at Camp Mackall, Willis joined the 11th Airborne Division and participated in combat duties in the Philippines. Following WWII he was recalled to active duty in 1950 with the 40th Infantry Division, serving as a platoon sergeant in Japan and Korea. His dedication to duty earned him numerous medals and awards. To Lloyd Willis, HQ, 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion...SALUTE!! Thank you for your dedicated service to our nation...GOYA!! ... See More from 551See Less from 551