How D-day veteran hitched a lift with a president

Jamie Wilson
Tuesday June 8, 2004
The Guardian

Getting on the wrong bus usually spells disaster, but for one second world war veteran on Sunday it led to the ride of a lifetime.

Keith Coleman, a former RAF gunner from New Zealand, had been hoping the coach he jumped on after the main international D-day ceremony in Arromanches would take him back to Paris. Instead he ended up stranded at a remote military airfield.

But help came from a most unexpected quarter when the 86-year-old was invited by President Jacques 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," Mr Coleman, who was travelling alone and does not speak French, said yesterday. But at the end of the ride, the other veterans got on a plane and he was alone.

Mr Coleman, who flew more than 70 sorties over occupied Europe in bombers and fighters, 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 he knew he was being driven at more than 150mph 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 Mr 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 aeroplanes and gave instructions that I was to be driven to the door of my hotel in Paris."

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