Private Martin Teahan of HQ Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, (PIR) 82nd Airborne Division, died on June 6, 1944, near a church in Picauville, Normandy. On the first day of the Invasion of Normandy, while scouting a position, he was shot in the leg, captured, and then killed by a German soldier who thought he was reaching for a weapon. A few days after D-Day, a French farmer in the area found an M1 Garand rifle with the name M. Teahan engraved on the butt of the rifle. No one knew what the farmer did with the rifle for 72 years until it was discovered in February 2016 by an active duty French Army Paratrooper Commander named General Patrick Collet.
The story associated with my the finding of this special piece of military history tugs on something much deeper for me. Martin Teahan, a legend to me and my family was my uncle, we knew him as “Uncle Matty.” A poor Irish Immigrant, stories of his bravery resonated with me as I grew up in the same rough neighborhood in the South Bronx as Uncle Matty.
On March 12, 2016, five days prior to learning about my uncle’s historical D-Day rifle, my brother Jackie and I visited Saint Jermone’s Church, in the South Bronx, for the first time since childhood. As we stood in the Church that day we both realized we never noticed a plaque with our Uncle Matty’s name on it. The plaque honored the parishioners who were killed in action in World War II. Uncle Matty was one of 65 names of World War II heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Jackie and I marveled over the plaque and wondered how we never noticed it as kids. It was a spiritual moment for us, little did we know how dramatically it would impact our lives.
By fate, on March 17, 2016 (Saint Patrick’s Day – Luck of the Irish) my sister Liz and I received an email from General Patrick Collet. He had acquired an M1 Garand rifle with names engraved on both sides of the rifle. Once he saw the named M. Teahan engraved on the rifle, he knew he had something special and was determined to find who M. Teahan was.
For decades my sister Liz was a member of the Friends and Family of the 508th PIR Association, she was devoted to honoring Uncle Matty and setup a profile page on the 508th PIR website, listing her as the contact. Amazingly, this simple process would result in the life altering discovery by General Collet. You see, General Collet would search the 508th PIR website for an M. Teahan. He found the match and notified Liz and me. We knew the moment we found out, the rifle was our Uncle Matty coming home after 72 years. How we both instantly knew this, I don’t know, but the realization it had changed our lives was instantly evident to Liz and me.
General Collet invited my wife, Monica, and I to visit him and his family in June 2016. During our visit General Collet allowed us to see, feel, and hold the M1 rifle of our beloved Uncle Matty. I was in awe as I felt the cold metal of the weapon on my fingertips, and envisioned Uncle Matty bravely marching
forward through enemy territory. Holding his M1 Garand was special to me, as like Uncle Matty, I also served in the Army. General Collet, Monica and I decided this special piece of military history should be returned home the United States. For my family, this symbolizes his coming back home, and to the Army, it symbolizes the deep conviction no soldier is ever left behind.
Our visit didn’t end there; General Collet had arranged an unbelievable itinerary for Monica and I. Our magical journey had only just begun. General Collet directed us to the site of Uncle Matty’s grave and arranged for us to have the honor to meet the U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Milley to salute and say a prayer with us. General Milley and his wife Holly made sure Monica and I had a “Once in a lifetime” experience and treated the memory of our Uncle Matty with the greatest degree of respect.
After the cemetery, General Milley and his wife invited us to join them on their tour of Omaha and Utah beaches, including an amazing jaunt to Point du Hoc. The moment I stared at the cliff of Point Du Hoc will always be forever blazing in my memory. General Milley and his staff guided Monica and me through each site we visited, learning so much about the greatest generation, and what they accomplished.
From this point on our journey got more amazing every day, with a series of dots connecting allowing us to tell the story of our heroic Uncle Matty. Some of our highlights were:
- Attending the Friends and Family of the 508th PIR Association Reunion.
- Meeting and talking to retired CSM Rock Merritt, who knew and served with my uncle in HQ Company, 1st Battalion, 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division.
- Connecting by phone and talking to Art Jacoby, who served with Uncle Matty, there were very good friends.
- Meeting the members of the Friends and Family of the 508th PIR Association, and the active duty soldiers of 1st and 2nd Battalion, 508th PIR.
- Attending a state dinner at General Milley’s Quarters, where Uncle Matty’s rifle was presented to me by the Chief of Staff of the French Army General Bosser.
- General Bosser speech in presenting Uncle Matty’s rifle to me.
- Amazing private tour of the Pentagon.
- Uncle Matty’s M1 Garand Rifle was the hit of the night, with all of the General’s marveling at it.
- Visting Nottingham England to explore Uncle Matty’s last days before D-Day, and our search for the “Kitty” from Nottingham Uncle Matty engraved on the other side of his M1 Garand rifle.
- Meeting the family of a “Kitty” and having fun researching a possible connection.
- Driving down the same runway at Folkingham Airfield that Uncle Matty took off on D-Day.
- Visiting General Milley’s Office to see Uncle Matty’s M1 Garand proudly on display.
- Arranging the 1st annual mass in Uncle Matty’s honor held at Saint Jerome’s Church in the Bronx, NYC.
- Having 40 family members and over 100 parishioners attend the mass.
- Arranging with Father Correa to make this an annual event.
I hope you enjoy reading my book, and following the ongoing story of Uncle Matty.