Today, people on two continents mourn the death of 92-year-old William Overstreet Jr. He was a resident of Roanoke, Virginia, a retired accountant, and like many men from his generation, a veteran of World War II. And in the spring of 1944, Overstreet did something people in France and the U.S. still talk about.
Overstreet, who died Sunday at a Roanoke hospital, is remembered for being the U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who flew underneath the Eiffel Tower’s arches in his P-51 Mustang during an aerial battle while in hot pursuit of a German fighter plane, which he ultimately shot down.
Even back in war-torn, Nazi-occupied Paris, that wasn’t something you saw every day. Or ever. And it was an act that is said to have reignited the spirits of the French resistance fighters who witnessed it from the ground. The Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted the son of one fighter, who had this to say:
One of those French Resistance fighters was the father of Bernard Marie. A French dignitary who has hosted D-Day events every year since 1984, Marie said he met Overstreet in 1994.
He knew Overstreet was well-known for his flight underneath the Eiffel Tower but didn’t understand its true importance until he spoke with his father.
“My father began shouting at me — ‘I have to meet this man,’ ” Marie said. Members of the French Resistance had seen his flight and it inspired them, including Marie’s father, he said.
“This guy has done even more than what people are thinking,” Marie said. “He lifted the spirit of the French.”
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