7960630883?profile=originalFlorent ‘Flo’ Plana and cameraman Hugo Le Gourrierec record Ed Manley

as he talks about photos from his days in the service during World War II.

Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

7960630692?profile=originalThe RV in which Plana travels to interview World War II veterans.

By Steve Pike

    A hero is hard to define and more difficult to find. But Florent “Flo” Plana’s definition of a hero is simple: someone who helped liberate his French homeland.
    Over the past seven months, Plana has found more than 170 men who fit his description of a hero. All of them have one life-defining event in common: World War II.
    Traveling in an RV that he bought on Craigslist and painted with the question, “Do You Know a World War II Veteran?” written on its side, the Frenchman, 25, is detailing on video the war experiences of U.S. WWII veterans with the goal of someday opening a WWII museum in Normandy.
    “We’re in process of buying the building in Sainte-Mère-Église. It was the first village liberated,” Plana said. “But we need $300,000 to buy it, so we’re working with grants and donations and the French government.”
    Briny Breezes resident Ed Manley knows all about the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.
    A 22-year-old private in the 101st Airborne, 502nd Parachute Regiment, Manley jumped into Normandy — near Utah Beach — on D-Day. He was part of an 11-man team whose objective was to destroy four coastal guns that overlooked Omaha Beach.
    On Feb. 23 at his home in Briny Breezes, Manley described to Plana his experiences on that fateful June 6, 1944, and in its aftermath — from jumping from only 400 feet above the Normandy beaches, then on to Holland and finally the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded in each leg and captured. He later escaped from Germany’s Stalag 12A prison camp.
    Manley, 94, waves off the slightest suggestion that he is a hero. But his definition of a hero unintentionally proves that’s exactly what his is.
    “A hero is a guy who does something intentionally to help out somebody else,” Manley said.
    To Manley, that best describes Johnny Marsh, a young farm boy-turned soldier, who came to his aid when Manley was in a field, pinned down by German sniper fire.
    “He was hit by a 20mm round that exploded in his body,” Manley told Plana. “He was dead before he hit the ground.”
    It’s for the Johnny Marshes of the war that Plana, funded by donations, is on his American sojourn to tell their stories. Plana first learned of Americans’ sacrifices to his country when at 9, he visited the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach — where more than 9,000 markers stand in remembrance.
    “They are all heroes to me,” said Plana, whose grandfather was imprisoned in a German labor camp and whose great-grandfather, a veteran of WWI, fought with the French underground in WWII.
    “Only if they did nothing more than their jobs, they’re heroes because they gave us the freedom we have now,” Plana said.  
The Veterans Affairs Department estimates that only 1 million men and women who served in the war survive. Plana is working with a group called Veterans Back to Normandy to raise money to take about 20 D-Day veterans, including Manley, to Normandy the first week of June for the 72nd anniversary of the invasion.
    “They’re heroes because they did something important for France and Europe and the Pacific,” Plana said. “Preserving their memories is very important.”
To help support the Veterans Back to Normandy fundraising campaign visit: www.youcaring.com and search for “Support Veterans so they can Partcipate in the Celebrations.”

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