Advertisement

Allies for Life : Frenchman Comes to Seal Beach to See Pilot Family Saved in ’44

Share
TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first time they met, Rudolph Augarten came floating down from the sky onto Robert Souty’s orchards in Normandy, France, in 1944.

The meeting wasn’t by choice. The Germans had shot down Augarten’s P-47 Thunderbolt fighter.

Even though the Nazis occupied their village, Souty’s family hid the American pilot for three weeks.

Advertisement

Then Augarten walked the 14 miles back to the Allied lines, but not before he was captured by the Germans and escaped. In the remaining year of the war, he flew 92 more missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Augarten and Souty met again in Seal Beach, this time at Augarten’s house, where the Frenchman has been staying for the past week.

“I’m extremely happy because I never thought I’d go to America,” Souty, a retired railroad worker, said Monday through a translator.

The two had reunited for the first time in 1994, when Augarten, who sells real estate, flew to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Over the years, of course, many things had changed. When Augarten was shot down, Souty was 14 years old. Now he was in his 60s, and his parents were dead. Each man had lived a life and raised a family.

Augarten called it “a choking moment to see [Souty and his sister] after 50 years.”

“I had changed. They had grown,” said Augarten, 75.

In a house just six miles from the farmhouse where he had stayed for those three weeks, Souty, his sister and Augarten reminisced about how they had come so close to being killed--the Soutys for helping an American, and Augarten by parachuting into occupied territory.

Advertisement

“There is no way of repaying someone who helped save your life by endangering their own. There was more danger for them,” Augarten said.

The Soutys had little money and lived in an old Norman-style house without electricity or plumbing. The family survived by exchanging their crops.

While staying with the Soutys for those three weeks, Augarten grew impatient as he looked into the sky and watched dogfights between German and Allied planes. Carrying a sickle and wearing Souty’s father’s clothes, Augarten headed for the Allied lines.

The Germans caught him, and imprisoned him with 15 Allied soldiers at a horse farm. A few days later, he and a British trooper cut a hole in the ceiling, crawled into the attic and out a window and scrambled to the front lines.

After the war, Augarten went to Harvard. For a while, he wrote to the Soutys, then he lost touch.

Augarten and Souty rediscovered each other through a butcher in Normandy who collected World War II memorabilia. The butcher, who lived in Falais, not far from Souty, had a list of some of the pilots who had flown P-47s. The butcher, Michel Rainfroy, wrote Augarten, asking if he had any P-47 parts.

Advertisement

The former fighter pilot realized how close Falais was to the farm of the family that had saved him. He asked the butcher to track them down.

When Augarten went to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Rainfroy brought Souty to the former flier’s hotel room. The next day they went to Souty’s house and the old farm.

On this latest reunion, Souty brought Augarten a present. He had spent a morning digging it up. It was a piece of Augarten’s P-47, which is buried near the farm.

Advertisement