Fairhope honors World War II hero

Celebration held to mirror annual French ceremony

By Allison Marlow
Posted 8/27/19

Every August the tiny French village of Sivry-Courtry gathers to pay tribute to the man who died liberating them from Axis forces in World War II.

This weekend, the town of Fairhope honored the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Fairhope honors World War II hero

Celebration held to mirror annual French ceremony

Posted

Every August the tiny French village of Sivry-Courtry gathers to pay tribute to the man who died liberating them from Axis forces in World War II.

This weekend, the town of Fairhope honored the same man, a native son whose roots are knotted squarely in both his own town’s beginnings and the French village’s future.

“We’ve always called him Uncle Barney and the fact that he remains uncle to two generations forward shows his strength of character,” said his niece, Jill Godard, a Fairhope resident as she thanked the crowd for attending.

Lt. E.B. “Barney” Gaston II was born in Fairhope in 1924 as the grandson of the town’s founders. He attended the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education and graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, later known as Auburn University.

As soon as he could, he joined the military, becoming part of the 1 percent of soldiers who would be chosen to serve as a bomber squadron pilot.

On Aug. 26, 1944 he departed Normandy at 10:30 a.m., in a squadron of nine P-47 Thunderbolt Fighter-Bombers, serving with the 53rd Fighter Squadron of the 9th Army-Air Force.

Eight of those fighters flew high to fire on enemy aircraft. Gaston flew low to scatter the enemy. He was struck by Nazi anti-aircraft fire and hit a tree. Historians say locals rushed to the crash site to find Gaston already passed. A young French maiden, they said, laid flowers on his chest.

His mission was successful though. Enemy forces retreated from the town and it is estimated that 300 Nazi soldiers were killed while Gaston was the only Allied casualty. Gaston was buried in France and a memorial was raised in his honor in the tiny town. There residents throw a celebration every year to honor the man who liberated them from Nazi grip. Gaston’s remains were later moved to the Colony Cemetery in Fairhope.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the battle, their freedom and Gaston’s death.

Mayor Karin Wilson presented a proclamation naming Aug. 26 as Barney Gaston Day. The document was read in both English and French.

Museum Special Projects Manager Darby Wiik read a passage from the book, “Goodbye My Friend,” written by Gaston’s best friend and fellow pilot.

He wrote, that they “were both convinced no one could ever shoot us down.” After the author was shot down, but survived, he wrote that the pair “altered our thinking and that with a lucky shot they could shoot us down. None of us had any fear of combat flying. We are invincible. We are immortal. We could be the conquering heroes.”

That same sentiment is true today, Wiik said.

“Barney, as we see 75 years later, is immortal and he was the conquering hero,” she said.