A centuries-old chateau in Normandy, France, was damaged in early June 1944. An American tank operator lobbed an artillery shell into one of its towers, destroying the stone wall that connected it to the rest of the castle.
The action was authorized in part by John Trippon, then a technical sergeant in the U.S. Army, because he and his unit needed a way to loosen the Nazis’ stranglehold on the homestead near Omaha Beach. The Germans had taken control of the chateau from its residents, positioned machine gunners near the tower and taken out a few waves of American soldiers who tried to approach.
Seventy-five years later, Chateau de Vierville owner Jean-Paul Hausermann invited Trippon’s children to spend a week at his sprawling seaside abode. Marianne Phelan and Jim Trippon will be guests of honor to celebrate the June 6 anniversary of D-Day, which is when Allied forces began their march toward defeating the Nazis in World War II.
By helping to drive the Germans out of the chateau, the late John Trippon liberated the family of Hausermann, who was 14 years old at the time.
“I don’t think Jean-Paul knows that my dad was responsible for destroying one of his towers,” Jim Trippon said. “We don’t talk about that.”
The younger Trippon, a Houston accountant with several clients in the Heights area, said his father didn’t talk about his experience on the coast of northern France until returning there five years ago at age 92 and receiving a hero’s welcome. Because of the bond they formed by helping each other survive and fight off fascism, the families of Trippon and Hausermann have become close despite being separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
Jim Trippon has made three previous visits to the chateau – which he describes as a castle without a king – while Hausermann and some of his relatives have made multiple trips to Houston.
“They’re really, really nice people,” Trippon said. “When you go to Normandy, it’s not like some other parts of France that may not be nice to Americans. When you go to Normandy, it’s like a family reunion. They love Americans.”
Their fathers’ shared experience also has led to a friendship between Trippon, 57, and 62-year-old Houston businessman Joe Ols, who both are originally from the Midwest. Their dads served together as Army engineers and helped to map out and execute the D-Day invasion.
According to their sons, the elder Joe Ols and John Trippon were together when they were approached by the tank operator who asked for directions upon landing on the beach. They provided those directions in exchange for the favor of bombing the chateau tower.
Once the chateau had been wrestled away from the Germans, Ols and Trippon walked to a nearby pasture and retrieved a piece of a dismembered cow that helped feed their unit. They found out later that they had successfully navigated a minefield.
The younger Ols and Trippon both said their fathers, who they consider lucky to have survived the D-Day invasion, had survivor’s guilt upon returning. The transplanted Houstonians with no military experience of their own have compared their fathers’ stories, and relived them, while getting together at least once per year.
They met at a barbecue restaurant last Sunday and stayed there for three hours.
“When we talk together, we’re like old friends through our fathers,” Ols said.
Much the same is true for Jim Trippon and the 89-year-old Hausermann, whose parents lived in the chateau in 1944. They’re akin to relatives, and Trippon will be treated like family upon arriving in France next week.
Trippon said Hausermann is honoring his request to spend one night in a nearby barn with a World War II-era cot to sleep on, just like his father did 75 years ago. The rest of Trippon’s stay will be spent in the chateau, where he said his family enjoyed “drinking the best wine, eating the best food and living large” during their visit in 2014.
Hausermann’s hospitality is tied to his gratitude. John Trippon helped the Frenchman’s family retain control of the chateau, even if it was damaged in the process.
“It is kind of funny,” Jim Trippon said. “I’m going to be the guest in a castle my dad contributed to blowing up.”