Adolphe G. Gueymard:
A Tiger Veteran's Legacy
"I went in by glider and landed very well. I was in the No. 3 glider to go into Normandy. Gen. Pratt was in the No. 1 glider. He was killed on the landing. I landed right behind him."
– LSU alumnus Adolphe G. Gueymard, as told to LSU's T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History on April 29, 2005
Echoes of man-made thunder fade with each passing year. Traumatic gashes cut into contested earth heal into faint scars on a fertile, serene landscape. This is Normandy in present day.
The site of 1944's D-Day landings, this now-peaceful section of France's northern coastline is dotted with reminders of the Allied invasion to liberate the country from Nazi Germany in World War II. Concrete barriers, bunkers and pillboxes still line Omaha Beach, where the U.S. Army charged into legend, bloodied and victorious over an enemy determined to yield nothing. On the left flank of that beach, 9,387 headstones mark the final resting place of American servicemen and women who gave their lives for the freedom of others.
Further inland, near a little town called Hiesville, a roadside memorial honoring a fallen U.S. Army general stands by an open field with an ancient hedgerow. It is there because of an LSU Tiger, Adolphe G. "Dolphe" Gueymard.
The late Dolphe Gueymard was a towering figure of philanthropic support for LSU and was inducted into the LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction in 2000. A past president of the LSU Foundation Board of Directors and a past chairman of Campanile Charities, Gueymard established multiple professorships at LSU and was a particularly strong supporter of the College of Science's Department of Geology & Geophysics. A 1935 petroleum engineering graduate, Gueymard parlayed a deep understanding of geology into a successful career as the senior vice president for Petroleum and Minerals at First City National Bank.
But before Gueymard made his impact in the corporate world and left an indelible legacy at LSU, he was a U.S. Army major with the 101st Airborne. Entrusted with a 57 mm anti-tank gun and a squad of men, Gueymard was one of hundreds flying behind enemy lines into occupied France on June 6, 1944, in a steel and canvas glider. With only moonlight and tiny markers left by 101st Airborne pathfinders to guide them, landing safely was no guarantee. It was the landing that proved fatal for Gueymard's commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt.
"Gen. Pratt's glider had been armored with steel plating under the fuselage to protect from small arms or anti-aircraft fire," said LSU alumnus J. Lanier Yeates, recalling a story told to him by Gueymard. "But when Gen. Pratt's glider was released, the pilot realized that the trim had been altered toward the nose of the glider, and the pilot had to fight to land the glider because of its extra weight. It took a very steep dive. It landed at a faster speed than the other gliders that didn't have the steel plating underneath, and because the steel was slick, it had no natural friction like the undersides of the other gliders. So it skid across the grass in the landing zone and it collided with the hedgerow. Gen. Pratt was sitting inside his jeep [in the glider] and, upon impact, Gen. Pratt's neck was broken. He was killed instantly."
"When we hit the coast, the Germans were firing at us from the ground. Part of us was dodging the flak and so forth. We had to fly across the peninsula, which was about 60 or 80 miles. In so doing, a lot of the gliders and the parachutes would jump other than where they were supposed to land. The result was that we were scattered all over the peninsula. That sounds like something bad, but it was good because the Germans didn't know where the main force was." —Adolphe Gueymard
Pratt was the first Allied general killed in the liberation of France, hours before dawn on June 6. His death is alluded to in the 1998 motion picture "Saving Private Ryan."
After his glider landed near Hiesville, Gueymard went on to take part in some of the most significant actions in the history of the U.S. military. He was present at the 101st Airborne's desperate – and successful – defense of Bastogne, Belgium, during the massive German counterattack known as the Battle of the Bulge. He rose to the rank of captain and led his gunnery crew into the teeth of German resistance in Operation Market Garden, the Allied assault on the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. It was there that Gueymard's gun crew destroyed a tank leading a German advance, an action that potentially saved hundreds of lives and was mentioned in a dispatch by a young war reporter named Walter Cronkite.
In another interesting twist of wartime fate, Gueymard was assigned to guard a train loaded with art and treasure that had been looted from across Europe by Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering.
By the end of the war, Gueymard had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel, earning two bronze stars for valor and two presidential unit citations.
"Mr. Gueymard was able to recount the events of the campaign after having landed at Hiesville almost as if they happened yesterday," said Yeates. "But he once remarked to me that many of the men he served with never got over the war, in that they went through life thinking of the war as their greatest endeavor in life. Mr. Gueymard told me on more than one occasion that was not the case for him, that the war was just a part of his life and it was only for a few years, and that he had many other endeavors in life. He enjoyed successes in business and his work with charitable, civic and educational giving as part of his tireless efforts on behalf of LSU. That far exceeded what he considered to be the important and exciting and dramatic events of World War II."
Gueymard met Yeates in 1993, when he asked for Yeates' assistance in business matters dealing with Campanile Charities. The two formed a lasting bond of friendship. Yeates, a U.S. Navy veteran, also has a distinguished record of philanthropic giving and leadership to LSU. He is a past chairman of the LSU Foundation Board of Directors and is currently chairman of Campanile Charities.
"We had some German tanks that were crossing in front of us. I jumped on a jeep tied to a gun. We rushed up to Boekel, [Netherlands], to the north side of it. Here was a big German tank going across in front of us. We hurried and got the gun around, twisted it around and opened fire on the tank. We knocked it out on the first volley, and so that saved it. That was a big deal because it broke up the German attack. Without that tank, the Germans were somewhat lost." —Adolphe Gueymard
In 1999, Yeates became greatly interested in Gueymard's tales of the World War II's European theater. In particular, he took note of one of Gueymard's yearly traditions.
"I learned from Mr. Gueymard that every year he went to Hiesville," Yeates said. "He returned to France, and he was the guest of the mayor, Agnes Buford. He and the townspeople celebrated the lives of all of his fallen comrades; those who died in the landings, like Gen. Pratt, as well as those who did not survive the war. He would return every year at the time of D-Day and return to the invasion beaches and stay with the mayor and other friends in Hiesville to remember his comrades. But beyond that, he formed the 101st Airborne Memorial Committee for Gen. Don F. Pratt, designed to fund the placement of a monument near Hiesville in remembrance of his death on June 6, 1944."
When Gueymard passed away in December 2008, that tradition came to an end. But only temporarily, as Yeates, thinking of his mentor, took action.
"This year I went for him. I took my two sons – Collins, 13, and Sykes, 16 – and my wife, Marie," he said. "We went to Hiesville, utilizing information that I gathered from the executor of the estate of Mr. Gueymard, and I knew of Agnes Buford's name. I knew generally the location of where Hiesville was. I was aided by Google Earth on my iPhone and a paper map."
After a moving, emotional experience at Omaha Beach, the Yeates family eventually found their way to Hiesville and met with Mayor Buford. It was then that Yeates learned of a touching addition to the Pratt Memorial.
"She advised me that on the anniversary of D-Day in 2011, the monument to Gen. Pratt would have an addition to it. And it would be a memorial, a plaque, in honor of Mr. Gueymard for his service as chairman of the Gen. Don F. Pratt Memorial Committee of the 101st Airborne."
After learning the exact location of the monument, Yeates and family discovered that the marker had been placed very close to the landing site of Gueymard's glider and the hedgerow that had claimed Pratt's life.
"I think we would like for the present generation and the generations after us to know about the war, the great effort that was given, and that many of us gave three and a half years of our lives to that effort. We want younger people coming up and generations after us to know that they should be prepared to help their country any way they can. That it's your duty to do so. You can be proud of it, of doing things for your country, whatever they may be." —Adolphe Gueymard
"It's just like it was in 1944. It's not under development. It's not under cultivation. It's a field that has a carpet of green as far as the eye can see, under a blue sky," Yeates described. "And at one end, a massive hedgerow, about 10 or 12 feet high, with a thickness that had the appearance of a solid wall of entangled vegetation and branches ... it had the appearance of being solid, like a fortress wall.
"My children and Marie and I, we were very touched by the monument," he said. "It was a simple monument, but a stately presence against the area where so many men came to meet their fate and to defend the liberty that we all enjoy, and which enabled Marie, Sykes, Collins and me to travel freely from the United States to Hiesville on that day. Now that Mr. Gueymard has passed, I can return to keep the memories alive, and when I can no longer return, my sons can return if they so elect."
Yeates said that when he looks out over the landing zone, he can sense Gueymard's presence and legacy, and the common bond that LSU has forged between them.
"There is a sense of 'Forever LSU' at the landing zone," he said. "It is up to us to never forget the Tiger spirit. It is up to us to always see in that landing zone, the stately oaks and broad magnolias, Forever LSU."
Gueymard's oral history interview was conducted by Ann Marie Marmande, director of development for the College of Science, and can be heard online www.louisianadigitallibrary.org.
For more information on the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, please visit www.lib.lsu.edu/special/williams.
Banner photo courtesy J. Lanier Yeates.