Jim Bradshaw: Franklin man was first American to die in European war
Lt. Edward Vincent Loustalot was wounded three times as he led a small band of American Rangers up a steep cliff near Dieppe, France, on Aug. 19, 1942. He kept climbing, trying to reach and silence a German machine gun at the top of the cliff.
He didn’t make it. He got caught in a fatal enemy crossfire. The young man from Franklin is considered the first American soldier to be killed by Germans on land in World War II. He was 23 years old, one of only a handful of U.S. soldiers taking part in an attempt to take the French port back from the Germans.
About 50 Rangers were attached to the force made up largely of Canadians who were given the job of trying to re-establish a foothold in Europe more than two years after the infamous Dunkirk evacuation of practically all British troops from the continent. It was a grand objective, but Loustalot and the other raiders faced impossible odds.
The first obstacle was simple geography; Dieppe is built atop a long cliff that overlooks the English Channel. Heavy artillery and machine guns could pour down a withering fire on anyone who tried to climb up from the beach.
Besides that, the Germans were on high alert. They had been warned by spies that the British were desperate to recapture a coastal port and also knew that a fleet of landing craft had been assembled across the Channel form Dieppe. Fifteen hundred Germans were waiting and ready along the beaches and in nearby towns. covering all the likely landing places. Heavy weapons were in place in the city and port and at the port itself.
Loustalot and the other Rangers were assigned to the No. 3 Commando unit, which was given the job of silencing a battery of heavy guns near Berneval, about eight miles east of Dieppe. There was trouble from the start.
The British knew about a German naval patrol in the unit’s landing area, but the commandos were never warned. German submarines torpedoed some of the landing craft, scattered the rest of them, and warned German gunners on land that raiders were on their way. Only 18 commandos got ashore. This little band could not take out the big guns, but, partly because of Lt. Loustalot’s bravery, they were able keep them out of action for a while.
American and Canadian snipers “for a time managed to distract the battery to such good effect that the gunners fired wildly and there was no known instance of this battery sinking any of the assault convoy ships off Dieppe,” according to one analysis.
A citation given after his death cites the lieutenant’s coolness under fire.
“Second Lieut. Loustalot was attached to the party of No 3 Commando which landed on Berneval, Dieppe, on August 19th 1942,” it reads. “This party consisted of only three boat loads out of fifteen which had been … dispersed by the enemy before reaching shore. [The commandos] immediately went into the attack against greatly superior forces. Throughout the action, in which he lost his life, Second Lieut. Loustalot displayed the greatest coolness and gallantry under heavy fire and by his example and leadership contributed greatly to the attack, which successfully engaged large numbers for a long time and enabled another party, a mile distant, to approach their objective with only minor opposition.”
If you should have occasion to visit the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial at Liege, Belgium, his burial place is marked by a small white cross at Grave 45 on Row 3 of Plot C.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.