WWII vet gives final salute to friend, lifesaver
By Senior Airman Hailey Haux, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 05, 2014
SAINT AVOLD, France --
Seventy years ago the world was at war and many lives were lost. June 6, 1944 was a day forever marked in history books as D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France. There are many tales of heroism from that particular day, but one account has surfaced regarding the day after the initial invasion, about a Soldier's search for the man who saved his life.
"On June 7, we were being attacked by the Germans," said Leslie Cruise, a World War II veteran. "Several of our troops had already been killed on the left side of our road block and we were commanded to move to that side to take up their positions."
Cruise, Pvt. Richard Vargas and another Soldier got out of the hole they were in to move to another location and assume those positions. They jumped down from the meadow and into the road in order to cross to the other side.
"[The other Soldier] got stuck in some wires so he was a little behind us when he hollered, 'look out,'" recalled Cruise. "We could hear the shells coming in. Vargas and I ran across the road together, side by side. We flopped down on the other side of the road while the shells were landing all around us."
Cruise heard his friend whimpering and turned around to see what was wrong; Vargas had been hit.
"A shell landed right beside Vargas' right leg while the rest of his body protected me," Cruise said as tears began to fall down his face. "To this day I don't forget that and I regard that as he actually died in my place."
To say thanks to the man who saved his life, Cruise traveled to France in search of Vargas' grave on five separate occasions, finally finding his friend's final resting place.
Members from the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 435th Air Ground Operations Wing's, Contingency Response Group and 21st Theater Sustainment Command participated in a wreath laying ceremony to honor Vargas at Lorraine American National Cemetery and Memorial in St. Avold, France.
"It was extremely humbling to be part of this ceremony," said Staff Sgt. Devant Jones, 435th CRG combat tactics NCO. "We aren't here to say thanks to one life, we're here to say thank you to every person who fought fearlessly on D-Day. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn't be where we are today and for that, I am truly grateful."
After Cruise read the paratrooper's prayer, the sound of taps filled the air. Cruise stood in front of Vargas' grave and saluted his friend one last time.