PARIS — Leon Gautier, the last surviving member of an elite French unit that joined U.S. and other Allied forces in the 1944 D-Day invasion to wrest Normandy from Nazi control, has died. He was 100.
The death was announced Monday by Romain Bail, the mayor of Ouistreham, an English Channel coastal community where Allies landed on June 6, 1944, and where Gautier lived out his last years. Details were not released. A special tribute ceremony is expected.
Gautier was a nationally known figure and met with President Emmanuel Macron as part of commemorations for the 79th anniversary of D-Day last month.
He and his comrades in the Kieffer Commando unit were among the first waves of Allied troops to storm the heavily defended beaches of Nazi-occupied northern France, beginning the liberation of western Europe.
The commandos spent 78 days straight on the front lines, in ever-dwindling numbers.
Of the 177 who waded ashore on the morning of June 6, 1944, just two dozen escaped death or injury, Gautier among them.
He later injured his left ankle jumping off a train and was forced to sit out much of the rest of the war. His ankle remained painfully swollen for the rest of his long life.
In the huge D-Day invasion force made up largely of American, British and Canadian soldiers, French Capt. Philippe Kieffer’s commandos ensured that France had feats to be proud of too, after the dishonor of its Nazi occupation, when some chose to collaborate with Adolf Hitler’s forces.