We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Uncle in the 15th

A few years ago, I’d joined the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division after meeting and helping CPT Monika Stoy and LTC Tim Stoy with the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket reunions/commemorations/seminars. I’d developed an affinity for the 36th Infantry Division when I was assigned that as my research task, enhanced tremendously when my good friend, SGT Russ Littel deployed with the 136th MEB, of the 36th ID, to Afghanistan.

Roy Navarre headstoneI was utterly shocked then, a few days ago when my sister dropped me a note asking if I knew anything about the 15th Infantry Regiment. It turns out that our father’s uncle, Roy Joseph Navarre, served in Headquarters Company of the 15th Infantry Regiment during World War II. My father, Russ Navarre, never met his uncle because he was raised in the St Francis Home for Boys (which unfortunately burned in 2011 and was demolished). So, this comes as news to all of us. Fortunately, Tim is the historian of the 15th Infantry, so I fully expect to be able to learn far more about Uncle Roy.

For those who don’t know the story of the 15th, or it’s parent unit, the 3rd Infantry Division, in World War II, it fought in North Africa, in Sicily, at Anzio, landed in southern France (Operation Dragoon!), fought up the Rhone River valley, then through the Colmar Pocket and into Germany. I’m not sure when Roy Navarre joined the Regiment or if he remained in Europe to the end, but it will be interesting to discover and explore.

Now, I can join the 15th Infantry Regiment Association as well!

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One-day Normandy tour choices: Omaha Beach sector

Earlier today, someone asked me about tours in Normandy and, while they are not using one of my three favorite guides, I provided some commentary on places to see. Most guides will tailor their tour at your request and there are some places I see as better spots to visit than others. There are some sites that are basically meaningless without a guide and others in which you’re not really using the guide’s knowledge.

If you have a single day to tour the battlefield with a guide, you want to maximize your time with the tour guide, sticking to sites that are close to each other and where the guide can provide the most impact. Each guide’s knowledge and enthusiasm is different, so I’m just providing my commentary.

I would say that due to the stark images and the general silence and emptiness of the German military cemetery at La Cambe, that it is a must, especially if your guide has stories to relate while you’re there. The small museum there is very well-done. Every guide should be able to relate some of the story of the cemetery and place it in context, so it is better with a guide. You might find it odd that I place this first, but I think that you don’t get as much of both the German perspective and a reminder of the horror that is war anywhere else in Normandy.

Now, since I’m looking at all this from an American perspective, I will only talk about the American sector in this post. My experience in the British and Canadian sector is far more limited, so I can’t speak as well to that.

Pointe du Hoc is absolutely required. If you’re not read The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion by Douglas Brinkley or watched Reagan’s historic speech in 1984 (speech written by then-unheralded Peggy Noonan), you really ought to do so before you go. Reading that will give you the structure and provide an emotive basis for your visit, but nothing really can prepare you for the level of destruction visited upon the landscape by the bombardment. Going down into one of the craters will truly give you a sense of it, but you’ll also get to see how most of the fortifications survived intact, requiring the Rangers to root the Germans out the hard way. Some guides will go with you into the bunkers and continue to explain, while others will simply let you wander. I prefer those who have more stories to tell, so it might be useful to determine in advance which kind of visit to Pointe du Hoc that the guide plans on.

Of course, as an American, you must visit the American cemetery. It is incredibly moving and feels like you’re back in the US, in a good way. You’ll note that all of our boys are facing home. The American cemetery does not allow guides to conduct tours on the grounds, so you are generally given some guidelines and advice, then explore on your own. I prefer to tour that by myself rather than using the guide’s time.

The Church at Angoville au Plainis one of the more moving stories in Normandy and if at all possible, you should try to visit there with Paul Woodadge, whose book, Angels of Mercy: Two Screaming Eagle Medics in Angoville-au-Plain on D-Day, details the experience of two American paratrooper medics caring for the wounded between enemy lines during the battle. Since this is more in the northern, airborne sector of the American battle zone, I would suggest it only be done as part of an American airborne tour rather than combined with the American cemetery or Omaha Beach. While someone who has read Paul’s book will understand what happened here, someone who has not will have no real understanding without a tour guide to explain. Similarly, having the guide present will make one who feels familiar with the story learn far more.

On Sunday, they were showing Tom Brokaw visiting the village of Graignes with three veterans of the fight there. A number of paratroopers of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment were mis-dropped by about 20 miles and gathered at the village. They held off the 17th SS Division, helping their comrades secure Carentan, allowing a link up between the landings at Utah and Omaha. It would be particularly hard to experience this without a guide, even if you read Tragedy at Graignes: The Bud Sophian Story. It is also remote from much of the other sites.

If you’re only doing a one-day tour, I would recommend you visit Omaha Beach, the American and German cemeteries and Pointe du Hoc. If you manage to study Angoville au Plain or Graignes, you might seek one of those, but likely need to skip something. If you’re seriously into paratroopers or gliders, or have a veteran or other link to Utah Beach, visit those with the guide rather than thinking you can visit everything.



Henry Lincoln Johnson, DSC WWI

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30 June 1998, Viet Nam Unknown Identified

Back in 1998, they identified the Viet Nam unknown soldier buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1994, Ted Sampley, a POW/MIA activist, determined that the remains of the Vietnam Unknown were likely those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. Sampley published an article in his newsletter and contacted Blassie’s family, who attempted to pursue the case with the Air Force’s casualty office without result. In January 1998 CBS News broadcast a report based on Sampley’s investigation which brought political pressure to support the identification of the remains. Blassie’s body was exhumed on May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, Department of Defense scientists confirmed the remains were those of Blassie. The identification was announced on June 30, 1998 and on July 10, Blassie’s remains arrived home to his family in St. Louis, Missouri; he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on July 11.

Also buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery are Easy Company commander 1LT Thomas Meehan, 16 of his men, and the flight crew of their C-47.




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