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

Setting out the monuments, Normandy 2014

As the touring season starts, the battlefield guides in Normandy turn to one of the hardest tasks of the year, pulling the monuments out of winter storage and setting them back in place for the touring season.

The crew starting in the wee hours of the morning at Vierville

Each year in the fall, the guides and some volunteers painstakingly remove each of the monuments from the battlefield and place them in storage for the winter. Paul Woodadge related to me on our first visit, during the 65th anniversary in 2009, “In 2003, we’d forgotten to put the Walter Mitty Leadership Memorial into storage and it got all knackered up. The artist had passed away, so the Mayor of St-Nulle-Part-Terre-sur-mer sent it to China. What came back didn’t look quite the same.”

Chinese Peace Memorial

The Walter J. Mitty Leadership Memorial

Noted author Kevin Hymel spent the first hour of our work talking at great length about the storms that ravage Normandy in the winter. If you haven’t heard him play the roles of Eisenhower, Montgomery and Group Captain Stagg in telling the story of the invasion, you really haven’t had the full Normandy experience. Someone whispered to me that Stagg actually did not have a cockney accent, but no one ever stops Kevin, because it’s simply hilarious.

The day starts early, with groups meeting each sector of the battlefield for a long day’s work. Professor John McManus told me while he sipped his coffee this morning and rubbed his sore hands, “It really is one of the great unknown tasks performed by the guides. I’ve been coming for several years now, since the physical contact with monuments really brings home just how difficult the invasion was for these young men.”

Up and down the coast, as well as inland, crews are lugging, tugging, and sometimes carrying monuments back into place. At mid-morning, Dale Booth led the team at La Fiere, ably assisted by Russ Littel and his wife Kate Deyermond, plus my wife Melisssa. As he was wiggling the bas-relief back into place, he reminded me that “many hands make for light work.” Indeed, this year seems to have drawn the largest contingent of helpers in recent memory. All the hard work does come with some unforgettable moments, such as Bob Sabasteanski had the year he got to help Major Howard drag Pegasus Bridge back into place.

Dale Booth adjusting the map at La Fiere. I tried videotaping the movement of this from storage, but they needed my help carrying it.

We finished in mid-afternoon, so I was able to sit with Joe Muccia over a glass of Calvados and pen this little note to bring you all up to date on the project. Melissa is enjoying her Pommeau and our dear friend, Tom Soah has a wee dram that he’s nursing.

I got started in the monument re-placement business back in the 1990s, when Tom Desjardin called on volunteers from the Gettysburg Discussion Group to roll those monuments out of storage every April. Following their lead in Normandy, “Le Poisson d’Avril” as they call their group, trudges out in the night in the last few hours of March, to be ready for the 1st of April.

Many thanks for reading and may you enjoy your own “poisson d’avril” today….

Ephrata: Taking from these men

In Band of Brothers, then-First Lieutenant Dick Winters admonishes Second Lieutenant Buck Compton, “Never put yourself in the position where you can take from these men.” My friend, Joe Muccia, who is a dedicated historian of “Easy” Company often reminds the rest of us of not only the movie quote, but the reality of Dick Winters feelings on the subject.

Some people just don’t get it. Among them seems to be author Larry Alexander, who, in speaking to the Ephrata Burough Council last month said,

“Winters was an American figure. Maybe they won’t be happy about it, but remember, he (Winters) approved the one in Normandy himself. Bob Hoffman was one of his closets friends who told me that if Ephrata does not do it, Hoffman will work to place it in Hershey. They don’t have the perfect place but would create one.” Ephrata Review

So, Mr Alexander, the organizers of the effort and the Borough Council were all aware right from the start that the family likely wouldn’t be happy with Dick Winters being used like a neon sign to attract tourists to Ephrata. They must not have cared, because they moved forward with the project. They’ve fallen back on canards like “the proposed statue was not a statue of Winters but of his likeness.”

War History Online was way ahead of me on getting the word out about this, but it is important that we spread the word further.

Lancaster Online published an editorial titled “The lion in Winters” which they expressed the hope that “Perhaps it is not too late to establish better communications between the volunteers and the family, and agree on some project that would satisfy both.”

I firmly support our veterans, but this effort is all about taking from the men for personal profit, regardless of their wishes or those of their family.

Normandy in June

This year, for the first time, I ache not to be in Normandy on the Anniversary of D-Day. Facebook and a collection of friends and acquaintances who share my obsession with the history have allowed me to see the photos, get the stories of the events as they happen and, sadly, to only wish Melissa and I could be there. We both love France and Normandy in particular, and I did not realize how much seeing it so instantly would make me miss it more. The crowd around Paul Woodadge, Joe Muccia and the other Trigger Timers who made it to Normandy look to be having a blast.

To soothe my pining, tonight I’m getting together with a military history book club to discuss Stephen Ambrose’s “Pegasus Bridge“. While I have issues with Ambrose, you can’t fault his prose. He is a marvelously enthralling writer and, since this was written in the 1980s, he makes me regret not having had an interest back then. My good friend, Bob Sabasteanski, had the honor of meeting Major Howard when he visited the Bridge in the 1980s and I wish I’d gone back then.

en Francais:

Cette année, pour la première fois, j’ai mal ne pas à être en Normandie sur l’anniversaire du J-Jour. Facebook et une collection d’amis et connaissances qui partagent mon obsession avec l’histoire m’ont permis de voir les photos, obtenir les récits des événements qu’ils se produisent et, malheureusement, seul souhait Melissa et moi pourrions être là. Nous avons deux amour France et Normandie en particulier, et je ne réalisais pas que combien voyant ainsi instantanément me ferait à manquer plus. La foule autour de Paul Woodadge, Joe Muccia et les autres “Trigger Timers” qui rend en Normandie semblent avoir s’amuser.

Pour apaiser mon languissement, ce soir j’obtiens avec un club de lecture de l’histoire militaire afin de discuter “Pegasus Bridge” de Stephen Ambrose. Alors que j’ai des problèmes avec Ambrose, vous ne peut pas blâmer sa prose. Il est un écrivain merveilleusement captivant et, puisque cela a été écrit dans les années 1980, il me fait regretter de ne pas avoir eu un intérêt à l’époque. Mon bon ami, Bob Sabasteanski, a eu l’honneur de rencontrer le Major Howard quand il a visité le pont dans les années 1980 et je souhaite que j’avais fait à l’époque.

Weekend Wanderings: Gold Cup 2012

“I demand satisfaction!” is a cry of an earlier time when I man could seek redress on a field of honor for slights suffered at the hands of others. If you long for such times, as opposed to the endless blathering of slanders and disagreements found on the internet, you will surely enjoy this video, courtesy of our friends re-enacting Easy Company.

  • I may be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think any current leading ladies of film hold any technical patents, but Hedy Lamarr was far different, as Valerie Curl pointed out on her EpiphanyBlog, “In 1942, at the height of her Hollywood career, she patented a frequency-switching system for torpedo guidance that was two decades ahead of its time.”
  • Robert Seale took some excellent photos of 3 of the 5 surviving Doolittle Raiders. The 70th anniversary of those “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” is approaching (18 April 2012) and he got to fly with Doolittle’s co-pilot, Colonel Richard E. Cole, in Larry Kelley’s B-25, Panchito.
  • Speaking of re-enacting, there is apparently an event over in south-west Michigan that might be fun if you’re nearby, Lest We Forget: WWII Public Display and Battle Recreation. There will be a vehicle parade, beach landings, a public battle and a hangar dance. It will be held at the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport and the beaches of St. Joseph.
  • At the GI Film Festival (don’t forget to help out Firewatch) there will be a film on The Lost Airmen of Buchenwald. Betsy Miller, in the Military History group on LinkedIn, had recently pointed out the fate of some American airmen who got trapped in the Holocaust, pointing us to the National Museum of the US Air Force for more information.
  • Volunteer fireman and Easy Company veteran, John “Jack” McGrath passed away. McGrath was a humble man, not eager to tell his stories, leaving dedicated Easy Company researchers like Marcus Brotherton and Joe Muccia lamenting that they couldn’t learn more from him. Joe noted that, “in fact he spent more time asking me about my war”.

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