In honor of D-Day

Everywhere we went during our time in Normandy, we were struck by the genuine affection the people there have for WWII vets, and their enduring gratitude for the role the U.S. played in the liberation of their country. Nowhere was that more evident than in the tiny village of Vindefontaine, where the mayor came out to take us, the first Americans to visit his town, on a personal tour. The village was part of a defensive line set up by the Americans to divide the Contentin Peninsula and keep German reinforcements from joining the battle for the port city of Cherbourg. Not many people are left in Vindefontaine who were there in the summer of 1944, but those that we met were generous and gracious in sharing their memories.

My uncle’s military files contain a copy of a letter our grandmother had written to the War Department asking for more information about what happened to Frank. She, like thousands of others, had  received a form letter that conveyed the nation’s gratitude for her family’s sacrifice, but did not answer any of the questions burning in her mind.

Your letter only verifies the wire sent, saying nothing about Frank. I was under the impression we would hear something concerning my son – how he died, was he taken to a hospital or anything at all about him. I sincerely hope you will send us some word. The sorrow this war has brought upon me I can never express in words – my only wish now is to hear something about my boy.”

Our grandparents never did learn anything more about what happened to Frank. The circumstances of how he died are not quite clear,  but we now have medical records that suggest his death was instantaneous, and that is some comfort for my father, even after 70 years.

The closest we came to finding the spot where Frank was killed was the site of the former Army field hospital in Vindefontaine where the bodies of those killed in action were taken for processing before burial in temporary cemeteries.

It is a very pretty place now, long returned to its original purpose as a farm. The stone buildings are hundreds of years old, and are overgrown with wild flowers and surrounded by hand-built stone walls and meticulously cared for gardens. We can’t be certain that this is where Frank’s body was taken, but it is very likely the place. I have visited Frank’s grave in the Long Island National Cemetery, and it is an achingly beautiful burial ground. But now, when I think of Frank, it will be the visual memory of that restored corner of Vindefontaine that I will call to mind, and the knowledge that he and the other Americans who died, are remembered in Normandy.

On the posts below, appearing in reverse date order, are some photos and text that chronicle our trip to Normandy made in memory of Frank. The two posts from May 7 are most directly related to Frank; the other posts are about some of the other places we visited and things we saw, including the May 5 post visiting the grave of our Great Uncle Frank who was killed in World War I.

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A whirlwind tour of Paris

Day 9

Our flight doesn’t leave until 5:30 in the evening so we decide to squeeze in one stop in Paris – the Eiffel Tower. Chris does a masterful job driving in the nightmare that is morning rush hour in Paris. Somehow our Goggle navigator gets us to a street parking spot one block away from the tower and after figuring out how to work the meter (again thank you Google for the translation of the instructions) we make the short walk, while the sun is still out. ( It is windy and rains off and on, more on than off, for the rest of the day, so we only caught passing glimpses of Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe as we drove past them on the way to the airport. On our list for next time.)

At the Eiffel Tower, we wait in long lines for the bathroom, ticket booth and two separate elevators to the top and then back down again.  Time was running short, so Chris ended up running down the stairs of the second half of the tower to feed the meter.

Here are some random photos, plus a closing video from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Dad at the base of the tower.

Dad at the base of the tower.

The view from below.

The view from below.

 

A strong security presence.  Not sure if these young people are military or police.

A strong security presence. Not sure if these young people are military or police.

 

The view from the top.

The view from the top.

My traveling companions at the top.

My traveling companions at the top.

So long Fresville, Hello Pegasus

Day 8

Last night was our last night in Fresville.  Home (again) cooked meal of leftovers of everything we have in the fridge and we do most of our packing. In the morning we figure out where the town’s recycling receptacle is (across the street from the   “Mairie,” or village hall) tidy up, and head out the door. It has been a wonderful stay, and we managed without phone or regular internet service. My father is calculating how many people we can actually sleep here for our next trip. Chris and I have agreed to learn French by the time we come back.

The plan was to go to Sunday Mass in Ste. Mere Eglise, but when we get there, discover there is no Mass scheduled for that day. Instead, we light a candle and spend a few minutes in the quiet.

On our  return to Paris, we make one more museum stop in Normandy, to the Pegasus Memorial and Museum. This site commemorates the actions of  British 6th  Airborne Division on  the eastern side of the Normandy landings. The most famous incident  is the Pegasus Bridge, captured by the British in the first hours of the invasion. (Formerly known as the  Benoeuville Bridge, it was renamed after the flying horse emblem worn by British Airborne.) The bridge was replaced a few years ago and the original bridge was moved to a new museum site a few hundred yards away. Another fantastic museum – this one featured tableaux on  individual ordinary British servicemen, telling short stories of  their lives before, during and after the war.

Oh, and another place where Uncle John makes a friend.

The original bridge

The original bridge

 

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Dad reads everything in a museum, a trait he has passed on to his children, sometimes to the annoyance of the in-laws.

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Text and photographs explain the story of the eastern flank D-Day action.

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Personal artifacts of British servicemen on display,

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Animals that served with the British forces are recognized for gallantry. This one features a dog that completed the required number of jumps to be listed as a paratrooper. Chris wants to know how it opened its shoot.

 

So, at this our last museum of the trip, we all wander around on our on. It’s time to go, and I spot Uncle John talking with someone and make my way over to see if he is ready to leave. The man he is talking to asks if he can have a few more minutes to chat. Turns out he is the museum’s curator, Mark Worthington, and he has a few questions and a request. He leads the way outside to show us a brand new exhibit, a newly refurbished tank that went on display only that morning, (the paint is still wet) and asks Uncle John if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture. I take the opportunity to get both of them in  a shot.

The museum gave Uncle John a memento of his visit, a silver lidded container  engraved with the museum’s name on it. Uncle John is holding it in his hand.

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Museum curator Mark Worthington and Uncle John pose in front of the museum’s newest exhibit.

We leave the museum for an uneventful drive back to Paris and our Best Western Plus hotel near the airport. The hotel and staff are very nice, but once again we are disappointed by hotel food. My duck was ok, but nobody else really enjoyed their meal. My  mental list  for the next trip includes more restaurants.

 

Dinner at the hotel.

Dinner at the hotel.

Dad takes our picture.

Dad takes a photo. But who is that old lady with the giant hand? 

Chris practices his French.

Chris practices his French.

The Airborne Museum, Bayeux Tapestry and the Cathedral at Bayeux

Day 7

I mentioned the Airborne Museum in Ste. Mere Eglise  in an earlier post. It is the top must-see museum on my father’s list, and has been expanded since his visit 14 years ago. The museum covers the story of 82nd and 101st  Airborne, but focuses a lot on the 82nd and the battle for the town of Ste. Mere Eglise, and some of the most interesting material are documents and artifacts from the people of the town recollecting those days. The museum has three main buildings, and the first one we visit houses a Waco glider, an aircraft that brought material and men behind enemy lines.  My father and Uncle John’s cousin, Thomas Connors, landed on D-Day in one of these. (Thomas’ brother James was a Pathfinder. Both brothers were in the 508th PIR)

the waco glider

An actual restored Waco glider.  Visitors can walk through the middle and see a stage scene of paratrooper mannequins getting prepared for the crash landing to come.

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A display of the Airborne insignia patches, The AA (All American) patch is the 82nd’s, the Spiderman orange patch was the 507th, Uncle Frank’s regiment. The 505th is to the left, and the 508th to the right.

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Dad and Uncle John examine a display.

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The view from the top of the glider.

 

A new exhibit hall features a mock up a C-47 with a staged scene of mannequin paratroopers preparing to jump, with flashing lights and loud blasts and yelling voices, an attempt to replicate  the chaotic sights and sounds of the air invasion. Visitors walk through dark passageways to follow more exhibits showing paratroopers fighting in different locales. It was eerie, and a bit too Disneyesqe-haunted house for me. It may be different for someone without a personal connection.

 

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One of several “life-like” exhibit of 82nd Airborne activities in the battle for Ste. Mere Eglise.

At the final exhibit hall, which features civilian accounts and the aftermath of the D-Day invasion, Uncle John is approached by a group of French visitors, who after eyeing him up and down,  ask in French if he is a WWII veteran.  A woman in the group speaks a few words of English and after a few tries back and forth establishes that Uncle John is in fact a vet. I try to explain our relationship and why we are visiting Normandy by pointing at the two of them and saying “frere” “frere” and then  “autre frere”  and using my hand in a way I think looks like  a parachute dropping. The English speaker gets it and explains to the others.

We try a  few more times to converse but can tell little is going through. But they do manage to thank us and a couple ask to take pictures of and with Uncle John. He is going to be in a lot of other people’s vacation photos.

 

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A French museum visitor has his picture taken with Uncle John, while Chris takes a photo for Uncle John and I take a photo of Chris taking the photo.

 

Next stop is Bayeux, a beautiful cobble-stoned medieval city, and I wish we had a couple of more days just to explore here. But we do get to visit the Cathedral and the Tapestry Museum. The famous 230-foot tapestry (actually embroidery) tells the story of the Norman Conquest in about 50 panels and is thought to have been made sometime in the 11th Century. No photos of the tapestry allowed, so I took this photo of the do not photo panel for my museum colleagues (Even big museums need to tell visitors ‘no’ )

 

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This panel (in French and English) encourages visitors to engage in conservation and preservation efforts.

After the museum, we walked around a bit, heading toward the cathedral. When we arrive at the cathedral, we  find we have come on a special occasion “Night of the Cathedral.” A  new bell is being dedicated, and the bell’s designer is giving a presentation. The bell was inspired by St. Teresa Benedicta/Edith Stein, a well-known  philosopher who became a Carmelite nun and was killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz. The bell commemorates 70 years of peace.

Too dark inside the cathedral for many good photos, but it is beautiful.

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Strolling through the city.

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Not sure what Dad sees that is so interesting, but it made him smile.

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While Uncle John wants photographic proof of how close people’s front doors are to the street and cars. Dad is only worried that Uncle John will get clipped.

 

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This one is for Terry Timko.

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The cathedral’s crypt.

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A gift shop in the cathedral.

A gift shop in the cathedral.

 

 

Pont du Hoc. the American Cemetery and Arromanches

Day 6

A very windy and cold and drizzly day for visiting Pont du Hoc, the highest point on the landing beaches between Omaha Beach to the east and Utah Beach to the west. The Germans fortified the area with concrete bunkers and gun pits but Army Rangers captured Pont du Hoc after scaling the cliffs. Despite the weather, the place is bustling with bus and carloads of presumably much hardier French and English tourists. We take a short walk down to the Ranger Memorial, literally hanging on to our hats.

Cold and blustery.

Cold and blustery.

 

Fortifications at Pont du Hoc.

Fortifications at Pont du Hoc.

The cliffs at Pont du Hoc

The cliffs  off  in the distance at Pont du Hoc

Dad and Chris went down into a bunker, while Uncle John and I sought some shelter against the side of a concrete structure.  It was so windy, I seriously was worried about someone getting blown over. We cut short our walk and got back to the car, deciding against making any more beach stops. Instead, we head to the visitors center at the Normandy American Cemetery  in Collevile -sur-Mer.

More than 9,000 Americans are buried here, and it is beautifully cared for.  Here is an aerial view of the cemetery to show how large it is.

 

Because of the weather, and the fact that some sections of the cemetery were closed in advance of D-Day commemorations, we decided against walking the grounds. But the Visitors Center was really worth the visit. There is no admission, but you have to go through a security check similar to the airport: Everything out of the pockets and a walk through a metal detector.

The exhibits are excellent, and focus on what you would expect at a cemetery, how families were notified, how the temporary cemeteries were established, the stories of some of the men who are buried there. The introductory film, Letters,  is incredibly moving.

 

 

Next stop, the D-Day Museum in Arromanches to get a look at the remnants of the artificial harbor there.

Off in the distance is a piece of the artificial harbor built by the British and assembled off Gold Beach in the days after D-Day.

On the beach and off in the distance are pieces of the  artificial harbor built by the British and assembled off Gold Beach in the days after D-Day.

The D-Day Museum at Arromanches is our first and only site-seeing disappointment. Disorganized and crowded, the museum is poorly laid out –  exhibits don’t follow any particular theme or timeline and photos are hanging too high to see let alone  read the display texts.  One thing we did like was the 1944 black and white newsreel explaining how the “Mulberry” harbors were built, a real feat of engineering. But  somehow we got stuck between two very large tour groups and were forced to exit the museum after the movie, and if we wanted to, fight our way back in. We opted not to, and instead head for home an early dinner for a change, and pastry!

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

Did I mention that  it is still light out at 10 p.m.?

This one taken around 9 p.m.

The days last long here.

 

Utah Beach

Day 5

After a very full day on Wednesday, we all slept in a bit and had a leisurely morning before setting  off to Utah Beach and the exceptional museum there. It was rainy and a little bit cool and windy so we hustled into the museum, plastic ponchos flapping.

I mentioned earlier that Uncle John is a WWII hero.  He was a ball turret gunner on a B17, flying  25 bombing raids over Europe in 1943 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. By the time of Normandy, he was back in the states training to be a liason pilot. Now, WWII vets get free admission at many of the WWII museums, and I expected the staff at the Utah Beach museum would make a little bit of a fuss over him, but was completely surprised and touched by the reception by not only the staff, but museum visitors as well.

First Rodolphe, a museum guide, (who turns out to be Geert’s next door neighbor) explained to us that the museum likes to present  WWII vets with a certificate thanking them for their service, and would Uncle John be amenable to that? Of course, we said, and made arrangements to meet at the end of our visit.

We went through the museum, following in the wake of a group of about 40 or so middle to high school age kids. As we neared the end, Rodolphe caught up with us and asked would it be OK if he presented the certificate in front of “the public” — again the answer was “of course.” The public in this instance was that group of students.

Uncle John talks to an impromptu audience at the Utah Beach Museum

Uncle John talks to an impromptu audience at the Utah Beach Museum

 

Rodolphe introduced Uncle John to the group and asked him to talk a little about about his war experience. Uncle John told the story about the  mission where the nose of the bomber was shot off, the pilot was killed and the co-pilot was wounded and needed Uncle John’s help to fly the plane back to England. Anyone in the family who has heard that story before knows how graphic it is, and Uncle John told it that way. Rodolphe translated the story into French for the students, including the graphic bits; Uncle John would speak in English for 2 to 3 minutes, and Rodolphe would translate for 2 to 3 minutes, and the kids were really paying attention! Uncle John also talked about why we were all in Normandy, and how Frank had been part of the invasion, but died on June 28, and that we had visited the town were he was killed the day before. He also told them about his cousins, James and Thomas, who also took part in D-Day and survived. By now, a larger crowd had gathered, listening in rapt attention, snapping pictures, and not a few were wiping away tears. He spoke for a good 15 minutes and everyone stayed to listen.

The students were so respectful, listening to both the French translator and Uncle John's English.

The students were so respectful, listening to both the French translator and Uncle John’s English.

Uncle John and Rodolphe.

Uncle John and Rodolphe.

 

The certificate pronouncing Uncle John an honorary citizen of Utah Beach and the town of Sainte Marie du Mont, signed by the mayor and deputy mayor of Sainte Marie du Mont.

The museum medal and certificate pronouncing Uncle John an honorary citizen of Utah Beach and the town of Sainte Marie du Mont, signed by the mayor and deputy mayor of Sainte Marie du Mont.

After Rodolphe presented Uncle John with the certificate and a medal, people came up and asked to take photos with him and sign their museum brochures. The boy in the front of row of the first picture, waited his turn to say  in English  “Thank You for everything.”

Chris and I were talking this evening,  once again marveling at the French people we have met and their genuine feelings of gratitude, admiration and affection 70 years on.

Vindefontaine

Day 4 con’t,

This part of the tour was very unexpected. Based on records of other soldiers, we were fairly confident that we had found the area where Frank was killed. By mid June, the Americans were fighting for the port of Cherbourg, at the top of the Contentin Peninsula.The 82nd Airborne was part of the defensive line cutting the peninsula in half, preventing German reinforcements from getting to Cherbourg. On June 26, Cherbourg was in the Allies’ hands.

Of course, fighting continued throughout the area. Frank was killed two days later, probably by artillery fire, outside the village of Vindefontaine. Geert took us  first to the church in the village center, where we could see damage from bullets and shells still evident on the church and in the cemetery.

Walking up to the church.

Walking up to the church.

Geert points out the bullet damage on the rail around a monument.

Geert points out the bullet damage on the rail around a monument.

Next stop was the town hall, with the hope that someone there could direct us to anyone who lived in the village during the summer of 1944. Town hall was closed, but Geert spotted a municipal worker who was fixing a sewer pipe and told him who we were and why we  were there. The man stopped what he was doing to walk us  up to a house a couple of hundred yards away. He thought the people who lived there might know something.

We then met a man who was only 5 at the time, and with Geert translating, told us  his story. He remembered the  Americans coming to the door, warning the family that there was going to be a lot of fighting and that they should leave if they could. They did. When they returned a few weeks later, they found their home had indeed been damaged. A shell had shot through the house and exploded in the room where the boy usually slept.  The now 75-year-old  brought us into an unused portion of the house, to show us where the shell came through and to point out the still visible bullet holes in the tin roof.

The bullet-ridden roof.

The bullet-ridden roof.

The municipal worker, listening to the story, then decided to call the mayor to come meet us. In a few minutes. Monsieur la Mayor Jean-Pierre Travert was with us, explaining, through Geert,  that we were the first Americans to visit and that he was very glad to meet us.

I think he  feels that his village, because it was the scene of a defensive action rather than a critical offensive battle, is unfairly left out of the telling of the story of the Normandy invasion.  Not many people are left in the village from that time, and he is in his 60s, too young to know first-hand what happened. But he grew up in the aftermath and with people who did experience it for themselves, and he had some places to show us.

Posing with the mayor at the village's signpost.

Posing with the mayor at the village’s signpost.

We followed him in his car, driving through the still tall hedgerows, stopping to look at  houses and farms where bodies where found, buildings damaged, shrapnel and other debris of war found. He took us to the farm that had been his parents, pointing out a ditch where 9 bodies were found, American and German I think, and where he was warned throughout childhood to stay away from because it was filled with things that could hurt him severely.

He  took us to an area that had been the site of an Army hospital. From photographs of war-time medical units, I could easily image the stone buildings surrounded by Army tents, and the wounded being treated there. He pointed out a long stone building up against the road, it was probably a barn, and told us that  was where the bodies were brought.  Of all the places we had visited, this one hit me the hardest.

Building that served as a morgue during the time the Army used the area as a field hospital.

Building that served as a morgue during the time the Army used the area as a field hospital.

 

The former hospital site.

The former hospital site.

Our next stop was to visit with a 92-year-old woman whose family had owned the hospital site, but no longer lived there. My father thinks he heard the mayor say that she had nursed soldiers there, but I did not hear that myself. When we visited, the talk was about possible romance and weddings, starting with my uncle’s jokingly asking  “Is she single?”  and getting a positive answer, swooping in to give her the traditional French double cheek kiss. The lady good-naturedly played along, and by the end of the visit the mayor was talking about going home for  his official mayor ribbon so he could officiate.

 

Uncle John and the lady of the house.

Uncle John and the lady of the house.

We said goodbye and thank you to the mayor. Our next stop was the site of the former Blosville Cemetery, where Frank was buried before his remains were returned to the United States.  Blosville was the first temporary cemetery in France; there were  two more in Ste. Mere Eglise.  Frenchwomen cared for these graves, taking the place of the mothers of those who lay buried there.

After the war, familes were given the choice of having the body of their loved one transferred to the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France,  or to a cemetery in the states.  My grandmother decided to have Frank buried in the Long Island National Cemetery. 

The former Blosville cemetery is marked by a monument and has been returned to its original purpose, a grazing field.

The marker at Blosville,     in memorial of the 6,000 plus Americans who died for the liberation of France.

The marker at Blosville, a memorial to  6,000 Americans who died for the liberation of France and were buried here from 1944 to 1948.

The former cemetery is now a grazing field.

The former cemetery is now a grazing field.

Our last stop of the day was to the village of Graignes, the site of a German atrocity.  Paratroopers of the 507th (we know Frank was not part of this group) held the town for two days, assisted  by the people of the village, before being outnumbered and overrun by the 17th  Panzergrenadier Division.  Taking revenge,  the Germans executed the American wounded and their doctors, and the local priests and other civilians before burning the village to the ground.  What remains of the church is now a monument to those who died. The plaque listing the names of the dead was missing when we visited; Geert later found out that it was being corrected and refurbished in time for D-Day. I hope we can get a picture of it later. 

The remains of the church, now a memorial, at the village of Graignes.

The remains of the church, now a memorial, at the village of Graignes.

Throughout Normandy, we are constantly reminded how the D-Day soldiers are honored and remembered. There are streets named after individual American and British  servicemen who fought in Normandy. In Graignes, there is a street named for the whole 507th. This is a photo of  the street sign on a house, the RIP is régiment d’infanterie parachutiste, French for Paratrooper Infantry Regiment. 

Street sign "507th PIR Street"

Street sign “507th PIR Street”

Our day with Geert ended back at the house around the kitchen table.  Geert pulled a book  from his backpack, a photo-filled slim volume written in French and English about the 507th, (507th Parachute Regiment, by Dominique Francois) and asked Dad and Uncle John to sign it.  Surprise! It was the same book that we had purchased a few months earlier and brought with us. So we have a lovely message written and signed by Geert in our book, too.

It was a fine end to a meaningful and memorable day.  Geert has agreed to be our guide for our next trip; my dad has decided we need to return in five years for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. And he wants the rest of the family to come too.

Dad, Chris, Geert and Uncle John say goodbye.

Dad, Chris, Geert and Uncle John – our last photo with Geert.

 

Geert Van den Bogaert

Day 4

Geert is a Normandy tour guide who specializes in creating personalized  tours for D-Day veterans and their families.  www.normandyheroes.com  He is just the nicest guy, speaks French, English and several other languages fluently, and really knows his stuff. I found Geert before our trip, thanks to several recommendations from other tour companies I had contacted through web searches, and before we left the states, passed along the information I had available on my uncle’s time in the service.  Geert did more researching on his end and in the end took us to  nine locations that in some way or another were related to Frank.  More than that, we came to appreciate in a small way what may happened in those three weeks, from the time my uncle landed until he was killed. It was an emotional day and the highlight of the trip.

We’ll have to do it in two parts, too much to cover in one.

First stop, the  507th PIR Memorial at Amfreville.IMG_0048

Dad and Uncle John read the inscription on the monument, while Geert uses the figure to illustrate how much baggage the troopers jumped with. The emergency shoot in the front, over an equipment bag, knife in the boot, main weapon against the body, small weapons and other supplies stuffed into pockets.

Deb, Dad and Uncle John at the 507th memorial

Deb, Dad and Uncle John at the 507th memorial

The mission of the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne was to take bridges, roads, crossroads and towns across the Cotentin Peninsula, disrupting the German defense in advance of  the coming landing  of troops at Utah Beach.  Cloud cover and anti-aircraft fire forced the pilots to take evasive action, missing their drop zones badly. Paratroopers were spread out over 20 miles of where they were supposed to be, making it impossible in some instances to meet up with their units and officers. (It turns out that Frank’s company commander landed in Fresville, where our rented house is, but we are pretty sure Frank was not with him.) There were many casualties that first day from drowning in the Merederet River and surrounding flooded marshlands. Because my uncle was in one of the lead planes, and based on the records of other men in his plane (or stick), Geert and other researchers are fairly confident that Frank landed relatively close to his designated drop zone, Drop Zone T, near Amfreville.

The drop zone near Amfreville.

The drop zone near Amfreville.

Dad and Chris.

Dad and Chris and the sign in English and French designating Drop Zone T.

The 507th was assigned to gain control of the area near the village of Amfreville, a few miles west of Ste. Mere Eglise.  There were three main areas of military action,  and we are fairly sure that Frank was at one and possibly two of these sites, we just don’t know which:  the site were Col. Millet and half of his men were captured, Lt. Col. Timmes’ Orchard where Timmes and his men held out for 3 days, and The La Fière Bridge, which a mixed group of paratroopers successfully captured and held. Geert took us to  all three spots, explained the significance of each and how they were connected. There  is lots information available on the activities of the 82nd, for one specifically relate to the bridge see historynet.com/world-war-ii-capturing-the-la-fiere-causeway.htm

All of us at the Iron Mike at La Fiere

All of us at the Iron Mike memorial to the Airborne at La Fiere

Our next stop is lunch in Ste. Mere Eglise, but first we visit the church there. Ste. Mere Eglise was the first town in France  to be liberated by the Americans (the English liberated the first town on the east side of the invasion beaches.) The Airborne Museum across the street is fantastic, and tells the story of the battle for the town and the  actions of the paratroopers in the subsequent days and weeks. The movie, “The Longest Day” (a bit too much John Wayne for mine and my dad’s tastes, but lays out the basic facts well enough) features the scene were John Steele gets hung up on the church steeple.  Today, a dummy parachutist hangs from a steeple, but on the wrong side (apparently makes for better photos, I’m told).

The church at Ste. Mere Eglise. The stained glass window at the home page is one of two inside the church that commemorate the D-Day paratroopers.

The church at Ste. Mere Eglise. The stained glass window at the home page is one of two inside the church that commemorate the D-Day paratroopers.

The town has grown much bigger and busier than when my father was there 14 years ago. But one thing remains, the people there and  everywhere we go in Normandy have not forgotten the Americans, and remain grateful for the allies’ liberation of France.

Geert helps us, thank goodness, order lunch at a bistro and it is quite  tasty..

 

A very, very fine house

Day 3 con’t.

First lesson of the trip learned — how to get the car in reverse. We stopped  at a local car rental office and lucky for us a customer who spoke English helped me to explain to the mechanic that either our car was broken or we were dopes. The second answer was the right one. He jumped in the car, pulled the shifter up, instead of pushing it down, and away you go.  So much easier than pushing the whole car backward to get out of parking lots (as we had been doing.) Everyone has a good laugh and we are on our way, with us wondering how many times that  story will be repeated. Spreading joy, that’s our job.

We made it to Fresville in time to meet with Ann, who will let us in the house we have rented for the week and show us around — with a quick stop at a grocery store for dinner makings and other essentials, such as martini ingredients. I wish I had thought to take a video of Uncle John explaining the difference between sweet and dry vermouth in English to the two French speaking ladies at the store who were trying to help us.

The house is beautiful!

Outside of the "cottage" we rented in Fresville

Outside of the “cottage” we rented in Fresville.

One of two living rooms.

One of two living rooms.

But cold!

And in an attempt to warm it up, “someone” turns all the electric heaters all the way up all at the same time, knocking out the power for a few hours. But we get the wood-burning stove going, and Ann and her husband Graham come to the rescue, flipping on the main breaker and voila! Everything is perfect. A hot meal and warm beds and we are set for the night.

Dinner wasn't ready until at 10 p.m., but nobody seemed to mind.

Dinner wasn’t ready until after 10 p.m., but nobody seemed to mind.

 

On the Road

Day 3

This from Monday: The original plan was to go to Oise-Aisne cemetery on Tuesday morning, but we decided to take advantage of the fact that we were all still wide awake after the flight and drive from Paris. The drive from our hotel to the cemetery should have taken about 30 minutes, but my exceptional navigation skills turned it into a 90 minute excursion into the French countryside.

After the cemetery, we returned to our hotel in Chateau-Theirry for dinner. The food was less than stellar, possibly because despite our waiter’s best attempts at explaining the menu, we really didn’t know what we ordered. Chris and I are struck by the fact that no matter how little English any French person knows, it is still 100 percent more than any French we know, and they are very generous in trying to help us figure out what we need to know.

After dinner, we retire to our rooms and sleep like logs.

We woke pretty early on Tuesday, and decided rather than take the fastest route to Fresville back through Paris, we’d go north to see something new. We made an impromptu stop at the Armistice of the Glade (or the clearing,) near Compiegne,  the site of the 1918 armistice signing after Germany’s WWI surrender. Hitler got his revenge in 1940 by making the French sign their surrender in the same spot, and then destroyed the French monument that laid the blame for the war on the  “German criminal empire.” (The monument was restored post-war. My photo of it did not come out very well, but there are lots of photos of the area available elsewhere.)

No disrespect intended, but the museum here is  where I got to try out the one phrase my father and I have mastered: Ou sont les toilettes?

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Monument to Marshall Foch

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Signs in English, French and German explain the significance of the site.