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World War II veteran and Ville Platte native Cecil Colligan is pictured standing alongside the veterans’ memorial outside the Evangeline Parish Courthouse. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)

From Utah to Sword

Ville Platte World War II Navy veteran reflects on the Normandy invasion of D-Day

On a Tuesday morning 75-years-ago, countless brave soldiers risked their life as they stormed the beaches of Normandy in an effort to liberate France and the rest of Europe from Nazi control. This day on June 6, 1944, became known as D-Day.
In the June 8, 1944, edition of the Ville Platte Gazette, it was reported, “D-Day for Evangeline Parish, Tuesday, June 6, was a day of prayer, work and dedication. Ville Platte’s churches from early morning to late at night were filled with men, women and children who offered their prayers for the safety and victory of their loved ones.”
“Special prayers were recited at the local Catholic church,” the report continued, “with Rev. Monsignor J. Maurice Bourgeois and Father I. A. DeBlanc officiating. The church was filled to overflowing capacity.”
“All business places in the Town of Mamou closed for D-Day; special services were held at the Catholic church there, as well as all churches throughout the parish.”
Shortly before the Normandy invasion, Cecil Colligan, of Ville Platte, enlisted into the United States Navy while he was still 16-years-old.
“I didn’t join the military until May 1944,” Colligan said. “I had gone to New Orleans for a physical, and I went ahead and took the pledge. I would not be 17 until the 25th of May, so they said they would delay my assignment to basic camp until after my birthday. I was graduating from high school on the 26th, so I came back and got my parents to sign everything.”
Colligan followed in the footsteps of his older brother Joseph who joined the Navy in 1940. “He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger,” Colligan said of his brother. “They were in the North African campaign at Casablanca, and then they came and defended the troops when they landed at Salerno in Italy.”
“After that occasion,” he continued, “they came back to the states. He left the carrier and tried to get into flight training to become a pilot, but he had sinus trouble. Whenever he would get above 10,000 feet, he’d have nosebleeds. They transferred him back and reassigned him to a naval base off the Philippines.”
During this time, the two Colligan brothers were reunited for a short period while Cecil was training in San Diego. “I remember on his way to that assignment he stopped at boot camp to see me and didn’t recognize me,” Colligan said. “The sun was so hot. My nose had split, my cheeks had split, and my lips had split. He wrote home to mom and said, ‘you’re poor little boy is having trouble.”
It was during Colligan’s marching and training exercises in San Diego when news broke about D-Day. “When they told us about it,” he stated, “we all acknowledged it, but there wasn’t too much we could do about it. I was elated, though, because I knew we were progressing in the Pacific. We had finished most of the invasion of the islands including the Philippines.”
Seven and a half decades after D-Day, Colligan said he is still elated about the events that took place on that fateful day because “it showed us the importance to really get out there and try to finish the war and do our job.” He added, “We knew that situation in Europe was under control and that we would be sending some of the resources over to the Pacific.”
For Colligan now, D-Day was also important because it meant a quicker end to the Nazi regime. He said, “Hitler was such a difficult person to understand, and his actions were very disappointing in the slaughter of the Jews and anyone who resisted. He had taken over Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, and Belgium and was trying to get to England. We knew he was difficult to deal with.”
All these years later, Colligan shared it is still important to remember what transpired on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. He expressed, “I know 75 is a landmark number, but I would definitely be one who would encourage all the citizens of the U.S. to remember it.”
Once Colligan finished his naval training, he was sent with the rest of his troops to, as he said, “transport some troops from Guadalcanal to the Philippines and pick up troops in New Guinea and bring them to different places in the Philippines.” He added, “Finally, we picked up some Marines, and they told us we were training for the Battle of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.”
Okinawa was Colligan’s first encounter with combat, and he described it as being “a little bit different from the standpoint of fear.”
He went on to say, “Having been involved with some of the Japanese in New Guinea and the Philippines, they wouldn’t surrender. They’d die rather than surrender. We knew we probably would have faced some difficult times because fighting on all the islands cost us plenty.”

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