General Jean-Paul Vinceguerra, F.A.F,
General de brigade Le'zienne
Memorial for Navy Lt. John Harding Coyne
September 14, 2002
Dear Members of the Coyne-Paschen family
Ladies and Gentlemen
On this Saturday, September 14, 2002, we honour the memory of Lt. John Harding Coyne, pilot of the first Squadron, VOF-1 of the US Navy, embarked on the aircraft carrier, USS Tulagi (CVE72) in August 1944.
He lost his life on August 21, 1944, over the township of Cabrieres while flying a reconnaissance and attack mission over Gard region. He was 24 years old.
Before I recall the circumstances of this heroic action, I would like to thank first, the family of John Coyne, who traveled from the United States for the occasion: William and Joan Paschen, Mary and Frank MacGinty, the nephews and nieces of John Coyne.
I would also like to thank the French and US civil and military authorities who have honored us with their presence. Among them, Commandant Chesnut, Navy Officer representative of the US Ambassador to Paris, Col. Ronald Albers Commanding officer USAF Detachment, 124th Air Refueling, Air Base Istres, Commander Leo Horacek Former pilot VF-74, landing of Southern France, Colonel Commanding Officer French Air Force, Orange Air Base, Colonel Commanding Officer Naval Air Base, Nimes-Garon. And will not forget other, the numerous Veterans delegations and their flag carriers.
Today this ceremony could not have been held without the energy and commitment of a number of persons I would also like to thank publicly:
First of all, Marcel Ertel, retired officer of the French Air Force, a tireless historian specialized in Air Force flights carried out for the Liberation of France, who has kindly provided us with his documents regarding Lt. Coyne's last mission.;
Rene' Robert, former Mayor of Cabrieres, who put us in touch with an eyewitness, M. Grand Jean Nicolas, who - in turn - showed us the scene of the crash in the Panissieres woods.
Not only was Monsieur Nicolas the same age as Lt. Coyne in 1944, but he carefully kept and treasured parts of Lt. Coyne's plane in his barn over the years. These fragments will be presented to the family after this ceremony.
last but not least, M. Gadille, today's Mayor of Cabrieres and his town council should be acknowledged for their unreserved support. Without their help this event could never have come to light.
Let me now recall the events of the past.
In the morning of August 15, 1944, the Allies land in Provence, in the Var region, between Le Lavandru and La Napoule after a massive inland attack by paratroopers just before dawn.
In order to protect this bridgehead and prevent the enemy from receiving reinforcements or fleeing, the Air Force has to destroy all communications lines with the rear.
Operation "Preface Dragoon" is launched from the aircraft carrier USS Tulagi, involving tens of fighters of type Hellcat F6F-5 as part of the observation and combat Squadron VOF-01.
On August 21, a group of 8 Hellcats under the lead of Commander William Bringle, takes off from the Tulagi at 1:15 p.m. with the mission to attack barges on the Rhone River, near Aries. Shortly after, two planes are dispatched for a special mission. The other six head to Nimes-Coubessac railway station where they knock off several locomotives.
The leading officer then decides to head Northeast to the Ste. Anatasie township where he finds about one hundred German trucks, traveling in five different groups on the road crossing the Saint Nicolas bridge.
The attack with heavy machine guns starts, as the German troops, in large numbers, return fire with anti-aircraft weapons and firearms.
First Lt. John Harding Coyne, age 24, from Evanston, IL is piloting Hellcat nose #8, Serial #58263.
It is 2:20 p.m. when his plane flying at a very low altitude is hit. He heads toward the sea and flies over Cabrieres at an altitude of approximately 600 feet. His commander sees him leaving the cockpit just a few seconds before his plane hits the ground in the woods of Panissieres, preventing his parachute from opening.
It is very likely Lt. Coyne was killed on the spot.
First buried in the Pont de Justice Cemetery in Nimes, his body was transferred in 1945 to the US Military Cemetery of Epinal, in the Vosges region, where he rests today.
Fifty eight years later, we are gathered here to celebrate and honour the memory of this young hero, who found an early death, here, so far from his native Illinois.
By now unveiling a stela dedicated to Lieutenant John Harding Coyne, we wish to pay tribute to his memory and help the younger generations to remember that a young American pilot like many others during Second World War, made the sacrifice of his life in Cabrieres, in August 1944, for the freedom and peace of France.
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NOTICE: All research materials regarding VF-74 and VOF-1 Squadrons, including but not restricted to, documents, research, photos are the exclusive property of the French Military Historian and Researcher, Mr. Marcel Ertel, Les Villettes, Haute-Loire, France. The personal photos of various pilots provided by their families are the exclusive property of the pilot's families. Mr. Ertel and the families have graciously permitted me to use the information for this Memory Album dedicated to those pilots. Thank you all.
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