LONDON, England — A D-Day veteran has told how he hitched a lift with French President Jacques Chirac after he got lost following Sunday’s ceremonies in northern France to honor the men who liberated Europe in June, 1944.
Keith Coleman, a former RAF gunner from New Zealand, got on the wrong bus after the main international D-Day ceremony in Arromanches, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.
Instead of getting back to his hotel in Paris he ended up stranded at a remote French military airfield.
But help came from a most unexpected quarter when according to the 86-year-old he was invited by Chirac to fly back to the French capital on board one of the country’s presidential jets.
“I left the ceremony and there was this bus outside that people were getting on to and I thought to myself, I’ll give this one a go,” Coleman, who was traveling by himself and does not speak French, told The Guardian.
But at the end of the ride, the other veterans got on a plane and he was alone.
Coleman, who flew more than 70 sorties over occupied Europe in bombers and fighters, told the paper he then had a look in the terminal.
“There was this important-looking guy wearing gold braid who I told my story to and I guess he must have felt sorry for me, because he made a few phone calls and told me he thought he could get me back to Paris,” he said.
The next thing the ex-RAF man knew, he told The Guardian, he was being driven “at more than 150 mph” to another airfield where two Gulfstream jets were parked. He was given a glass of what he said was “the best red wine I’ve ever tasted” before a vast cavalcade pulled up and Chirac stepped out.
“He came over … I snapped to attention and gave him a little salute … he put his arm round me. He said he would be happy for me to travel in one of the airplanes and gave instructions that I was to be driven to the door of my hotel in Paris,” the veteran said.