LOCAL NEWS

Pilot memorialized in France after he died fighting in the invasion of Normandy in WWII

Jun 5, 2024, 10:42 PM | Updated: Jun 6, 2024, 2:35 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — D-Day was just the start of freeing Europe from the Nazis.

As the world remembers the 80th anniversary of the invasion, one Utah family just returned from the town where their loved one died while fighting to liberate France. They were the guests of honor as a small French village remembered U.S Army Air Force Pilot Paul Chaufty, whose plane crashed the day their town was freed from Nazi Germany.

A still taken from video footage of the U.S. Airforce in WWII on its way to the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. (NBC)

Nicole Saunders and her husband David never met her great-uncle, Chaufty. They knew he fought in World War II and died near Normandy. But members of the French family who saw his plane go down nearly 80 years ago set up a foundation to honor him.

The Saunders said they will never forget their experience in France, and cherish the moments in history that should never be forgotten.

“It was just touching to see,” Nicole Saunders said, as she and her husband went through their treasures from their trip to France.

They’re not looking at souvenirs but what could be called family heirlooms. They now have pieces of their uncle’s plane he was flying when he went down in a small village near Normandy.

Heirlooms of the Saunders family after their trip to Normandy, including a poster advertising in French the ceremony that memorialized him. (NBC)

The couple, along with two adult sons, traveled to France to attend a ceremony to honor Nicole Sounders’ great-uncle. In August 1944, a 14-year-old girl, Marie Bastien, (now 94) watched his plane go down. Her family fought to keep his legacy alive.

So, in the village of Saint Ellier Les Bois, French dignitaries and local leaders honored Chaufty with a memorial that will stand in their town. They also showed the Saunders family the place where Chaufty’s plane went down and where his body was later found, a couple of miles away.

“It was amazing because at both sites they had American flags placed right to the locations,” Nicole Saunders said. “And that was really touching to be in the middle of rural France and see American flags, you to know, to honor my uncle Paul.”

NBC Nightly News followed the Saunders when the village unveiled a memorial for Chaufty, the event spearheaded by Bastien’s family.

“It’s not a very big town, yet there were more than 200 people in attendance,” David Saunders said.

He said the trip was emotional.

“They all came with their own specialized flag, in order to show the solidarity for the entire region,” he said.

The Saunders also met with schoolchildren who had drawn pictures with a real understanding of history.

“They haven’t forgotten, and they’ve passed that down,” David Saunders said.

The Saunders left the village with a greater connection to the past and new friendships that will last a lifetime.

“He wasn’t just some isolated guy,” they said. “He was part of something great and it was amazing how deeply they remember it and how deeply touched they were by it.”

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Pilot memorialized in France after he died fighting in the invasion of Normandy in WWII