Irwin became the American Veteran Air Force "Rock Star" of Normandy and I grew muscles pushing him around in his aluminum wheel chair. Irwin's Doris and my wife, Barbara were thrilled to see the joy Irwin experienced during the entire trip.
We spent 3 days in Paris showing Irwin the best sites and food followed by a great Tauck river boat cruise to Normandy with other stops along the way. The high light of our journey was spending 2 days in Normandy with Jean-Pierre Paviot and family as they drove us to all the sites and arranged many of our visits.
As requested, Tauck responded in several ways to honor Irwin. Mr Tauck, Chairman of the Board wrote Irwin a wonderful letter of welcome and related his own experience in the Air Force. Tauck scheduled and published a notice in their on board daily bulletin advising that Irwin was invited to speak the day before reaching Normandy. Irwin was at his best and delivered a most effective speech on his military experience and how it brought him to develop Vets Helping Heroes. At the end of the speech he received a standing ovation with people coming up to thank him. Every day and night there after guests stopped Irwin to personally speak to him and many stated that they would be sending a donation to VHH on their return. Most guests advised us that Irwin was the high light of their cruise experience.
We were happy that John and Nelly Van Blois could join us for the day in Caen at the WW11 museum where Irwin was treated as royalty.
Irwin wore his French Legion of Honor medal and was instantly recognized as a hero to the French populations as well as Americans & others where ever we went and was thus surrounded with swarms of people to honor his service to their country and thanked him for helping to save France from the Nazi's.
We went to a number of other museums including the personal Museum of Leon Gautier a 92 year old Commando Veteran where Irwin received a medal for those Vets returning to Normandy during the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The medal was presented by the Monsieur Raphael Chauvois Vice President of Normandy Region. Leon and 177 Commandos invaded Sword beach and with help of the British overran the Nazi's and recaptured the area. We celebrated with the two 92 yr olds sitting side by side swapping war stories over a luncheon celebration with about 20 people. It was a grand day.
As part of the Riverboat program we visited a wonderful Chateau for dinner. Nicolas Navarro the owner was a collector of WW11 war objects using his gieger counter since was 13 years old. He purchased the Chateau after becoming successful to create a personal WW11 museum. Jean-Pierre by coincidence, also arranged for use to visit the same Chateau a few days later through his own connections.
Nicolas was fascinated with Irwin's history and wanted him back for a special celebration to honor Irwin. He has engaged a number of local men and women to dress is US Army and US Air Force uniforms and had WW11 Jeeps and other vehicles to set the scene by the Chateau and Museum. The boutique Museum had a wonderful collection of arms, uniforms and various war equipment from German, American, British etc armies. After viewing the museum we all gathered outside by the Chateau and military vehicles as Jean-Pierre spoke to the group in French followed by Irwin's presentation that was covered by French newspaper and TV reporters. His speech was very well received followed by numerous questions and much interest in VHH.
Our last visit of the trip was to visit the area that Irwin was shot down 70 years prior almost to the day. This was Irwin's expressed desire and the reason for the trip. We drove an hour to meet the Philippe Cadard family who also developed a small WW11 museum and was in the area where Irwin parachuted down to. After touring and a nice lunch we discussed the area that their property overlooked and Philippe was sure that was the area Irwin landed. When we left we were not really sure he was correct but Irwin received another German document that certified that the area in fact was exactly at the spot we were at. We were both delighted that he full filed his wish.
We both want to express our sincere appreciation to Jean-Pierre for his extensive efforts to make Irwin's visit to France not only enjoyable but successful.
Chairman of the Board
Vets Helping Heroes