ST. ALBANS — It was June 6, 1944. It was D-Day, and it was also St. Albans-native Frank Calo’s 23rd birthday.
Calo, a lieutenant paratrooper in the 2nd Battalion HQ, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, was stationed in England during World War II when he sent his last letter to his family on June 5, 1944. In it, he wrote that he would be visiting his grandmother the next day – in code terms, he’d be going to France.
After what turned out to be a deadly day for more than 9,000 Allied soldiers, Calo never came back.
Up until recently, not much was known about how Calo died in the invasion of Normandy. But thanks to some interested scholars both here in Franklin County in and all the way in England, some new details have emerged.
In a 1995 Messenger article, Calo’s sister, Mary Dufresne shared the details she had about her brother’s short life. Dufresne, a St. Albans resident who passed away this past December at the age of 90, said nearly 50 years after his death that it was still difficult to believe her brother was gone.
Calo entered the Army National Guard while still in high school at St. Mary’s in St. Albans. He was mobilized for war in February 1941 and was moved for training at Camp Landing in Georgia.
He served in the infantry until being chosen to go to officer training school at Fort Benning, N.Y., and there he became a lieutenant. Calo eventually went to jump school, and then became part of the famous 82nd Airborne Division.
Calo was stationed in Ireland starting in 1943, and from there he went to England. After his June 5, 1944 letter arrived at the family’s Bishop Street home, little else was known about what happened to him, except that he was part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy, and he died there.
Had he survived, Dufresne said that Calo had planned on going to college. His sister thought he would have made a good football coach.
Calo was buried in the Normandy American cemetery in Colleville, France.
More stories uncovered?
In 2005, an Englishman named Adam Berry took some friends to lay wreaths on one 101st Airborne Division grave and one 82nd Airborne Division grave in the Colleville cemetery, and he just happened to lay one of the wreaths on Calo’s grave.
There is a YouTube video (see url at end of this article) depicting this.
Berry did some research, and in conjunction with a Swanton man, Glenn Stimets, whose uncle Bob Coon knew Calo at St. Mary’s and during the war, both found out some more about Calo’s death.
Through an online forum called Trigger Time, Berry and Stimets have determined that Calo was one of the many 505th PIR men who were dropped over Sainte Mere Eglise. Some of the paratroopers were caught in trees and lampposts, and before they could cut themselves down, Nazi soldiers shot or bayonetted the American paratroopers.
According to information Berry found in the 82nd Airborne Division’s Roll of Honor, Calo was one of those unfortunate men caught on a lamppost.
“It was only a few feet off the ground,” Stimets said by phone Wednesday. “Calo never made it to the ground, apparently. They actually bayonetted him and killed him.”
Stimets added, “Killed on his damned birthday. Unreal.”
A popular Hollywood move, “The Longest Day,” released in 1962, in part depicted the incident at Sainte Mere Eglise. As a result, what happened in the village in France became an iconic image and memory that haunted America’s Greatest Generation and, for many, came to stand for the incalculable tragic events of WWII.
The image of a paratrooper hanging from a church tower still is on display in Sainte Mere Eglise as a reminder of the Allied liberation of France.
Though there is some question about whether this is definitely the manner in which Calo died, there is no disputing that Calo was killed in Sainte Mere Eglise. Stimets and Berry are continuing to research and talk about Calo.
Stimets, whose uncle as well as his father, Wendell Stimets, were both paratroopers, said his interest in WWII stems from listening to both of them remember the war.
“I basically grew up listening to those two talk,” Stimets said. “My ears were glued to every word they said.”
For those paratroopers that didn’t make it home to tell their stories, for young men like Calo who died on D-Day, Stimets is doing his best to work to find those histories and keep them alive.
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The YouTube video of Adam Berry at Frank Calo’s grave is available online (www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJgxn426onU).