508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division
Plot C, Row 24, Grave 12
Born in 1916, Pfc. Rene A. “Punchy” Croteau was a semi-pro baseball player from Holyoke, Mass., He entered the armed forces on November 28, 1942 to serve with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82ndAirborne Division. He and his regiment were stationed in England in 1944 in preparation for D-Day.
On June 6, 1944, Croteau, along with 24,000 Allied paratroopers, hoped to land near their planned landing zones in Normandy. The 508thParachute Infantry Regiment’s main strategic objective was Sainte-Mère-Église. With control of the town, the Americans could secure the crossings at the Merderet River and establish a defensive line north from Neuville-au-Plain to Breuzeville-au-Plain. Sainte-Mère-Église would be the first French town liberated by Americans in World War II. Like most parachute units that night, many troopers were dropped in the wrong locations and found it difficult to link up with each other. Some were successful in meeting up with their units while others were lost, drowned in the marshes, or taken prisoner.
Croteau survived his nighttime drop of June 6, and continued to fight through the area over the following few weeks. Along the way, Croteau became fast friends with a 15-year-old French boy. The boy, wanting to join his new friends in the fight, pieced together an 82ndAirborne uniform to wear and marched alongside Croteau.
On July 4, 1944 Croteau’s ‘I’ Company was advancing toward La Haye-du-Puits on Hill 95 when the Germans opened fire. Croteau was killed instantly. In an attempt to drag Croteau to safety, the French boy ran out onto the field only to be killed himself by German bullets.
Awards: Purple Heart
Rene A. Croteau is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot C, Row 24, Grave 12.