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American 'Liberator' Given a Hero's Welcome in French Village

June 17, 1990|From Associated Press

PLELO, France — Former U.S. Army Capt. Robert Hamsley returned Saturday to a hero's welcome in the Breton village he helped liberate nearly 46 years ago from Nazi German occupiers.

Children waved American and French flags to greet Hamsley as he passed through the village in a World War II vintage jeep. Nearly all of Plelo's 2,300 residents turned out to applaud him.

A detachment of U.S. Marines and French soldiers stood by as Hamsley, 71, was given the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, one of the nation's most distinguished awards. The village sports stadium was renamed in his honor.

Hamsley, of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., and Orlando, Fla., appeared taken aback by the acclaim.

"I love you, Plelo," he said in a toast.

At a ceremony at the village's monument to the dead of World War II, Plelo Mayor Yves Le Coqu hailed Hamsley as the village's "American savior."

In August, 1944, Plelo was occupied by the Nazis, who were preparing to carry out a series of executions when Hamsley entered the village at the head of a five-tank column.

His men wiped out a contingent of the heavily armed Germans. But two days later, German antitank guns knocked out four of the five tanks and damaged Hamsley's own.

However, Hamsley and his crew managed to destroy the guns and killed or drove off about 100 Germans.

Hamsley received a Bronze Star for his action and was promoted from lieutenant to captain. But his action was not even reported in the official diaries of the 15th Cavalry Regiment of Gen. George Patton's Third Army.

The belated recognition was prompted in part by the efforts of a history buff who also served in the 15th Cavalry, Robert Dwan of Tucson, Ariz. Dwan, along with amateur French historians, pinpointed Hamsley as the hero of Plelo.

Last year, the Plelo village council named Hamsley an honorary citizen "in testimony of our gratitude for your courageous action of Aug. 6, 1944, which led to (the village's) liberation."

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