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


Another monument violated

Northwest of Reims, when traveling along the Avenue du General de Gaulle, you pass through the small commune of Berry-au-Bac and reach one of France’s many rural traffic circles. At that circle is a grand monument “Aux Morts des Chars d’Assaut“, a memorial to the dead of the French armored forces in WWI. It’s located on the fields of the Second Battle of the Aisne (La bataille du Chemin des Dames or Seconde bataille de l’Aisne), where 118 of the 128 tanks used to assault the Chemin des Dames ridgeline were destroyed. After the atrocious losses in that battle, in which the French General Headquarters (GQG) expected about 10,000 casualties and suffered 134,000, the French Army suffered from wide-spread mutinies. This brought Marshal Petain to the head of the French Army and ended any significant French offensives until the Americans and better tanks could be fielded.

French television reported that the bas-relief (crossed cannons and a knight’s helmet), five brass plaques and some marble memorial markers have been stolen.

It’s a tragedy that the copper or marble has become valuable enough that unscrupulous people will desecrate memorials in order to put money in their pockets. No thought is given to the men for whom these memorials were placed, but only to the looters own selfish needs.

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On Green Beach

In our recent trip to southern France, I did manage to squeeze in some time down at Green Beach, where most of the 36th Infantry Division came ashore. Since our stay in France was focused on two weeks in Avignon, Green Beach was quite a long drive – over two hours from our lodgings. The short trip up to the Montelimar battle square was far shorter.

36th BeachWe drove into the area Frejus, having used the A8 highway to come east from Avignon. Having spent a lot of time in rural France, enjoying the quaint and quiet villages, Frejus itself is something of a shock. We kept saying to each other how much it reminded us of going to Ocean City or the Outer Banks of North Carolina, since it was so Americanized. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say Americanized, just commercialized. The long plage in front of St. Raphael is a marvelous sandy beach and bikini-clad ladies parade past statues to the Senegalese troops, to General de Lattre de Tassigny and to Charles DeGaulle. It’s hard to argue with the people enjoying the beaches that were used in the liberation of France, since the soldiers fought exactly so that the beaches could be used this way. It’s still a little jarring to see a band playing for a crowd next to the statues of 5 soldiers who landed here.

Nonetheless, seeing Frejus Bay, you can understand how this soft sandy beach could have been a nightmare to assault. With the curve of the coastline and the rough terrain on anything that is not a sandy beach, you’d be landing troops into a kill zone. As they’d attack into Saint Raphael, they’d be exposing their backs to gun positions directly to their west. Since the remote-controlled explosive boats sent in to attempt early destruction of the obstacles were unsuccessful (radio interference likely helped scramble the signals and lead to some of these “drone” boats heading back at the fleet instead of into the beach), the Navy wisely decide to divert the planned landing of the 142nd Infantry Regiment from Red Beach and land them on Green Beach, secured hours earlier with the landings of the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 141st Infantry Regiment.

Green BeachBecause the 142nd diverted to Green Beach, where the 143rd Infantry Regiment had followed the landings of the 141st, all of the troops of the Division, other than the 1st Battalion of the 141st, ended up landing on Green Beach. So, it comes as no surprise that when it came time to commemorate the landing of the Division in France, that the monument went up on Green Beach. Of course, when we go to the parking area, I had to race to the beach first (and not just because there was a restroom down there, but that did spur me forward).

The shocker: it’s not a sandy beach. The entire landing area is covered with gallets, stones from the size of your hand to the size of your head. Needless to say, on the day that all the other beaches were swarmed with sun-worshippers, this beach had only a few dozen families. Melissa and I took off our shoes and gingerly approached the water, standing to allow the waters of the Mediterranean to wash over our feet. I raised my hands and shouted, “Lafayette, nous sommes ici!”

The map above does not at all convey what the terrain in the area is like. It’s rocky and hilly, imposing and difficult terrain, even with modern roads in place. Looking at the arrows on that map, you get no sense whatsover of how challenging the route along the coast eastward to Cannes really is. Some the materials I’ve read point out the challenge facing the 141st heading along that road. If you drive it, you can certainly understand how a few determined soldiers with machineguns and some explosives could halt a battalion-sized advance. The Germans, having been at war for half of a decade were experts at such actions. Thus, in this terrain, and later in the war in the Vosges Mountains, during the Battle of the Colmar Pocket, small groups in an army which some thought was already beaten, could inflict devastating casualties. This may help explain why, when General Truscott visited General Dahlquist’s headquarters during the battle of Montelimar, saw the terrain and the condition of the 36th Infantry Division troops and refrained from relieving Dahlquist on the spot.

As I find so often, when you walk the ground, you gain an understanding that is simply impossible to acquire from books and maps. I wish we’d had more time at Green Beach and been able to visit the drop zones, but mostly, I wish we’d been able to do so with a guide. I could relate some of what I’d read to the places, but it really takes significant study of the history and the terrain to be able to do more than scratch the surface.



Fools charge ahead in Ephrata
24 July 2013, 19:36
Filed under: Band of Brothers, Veterans | Tags: , ,

WarHistoryOnline reports that despite knowledge that neither Dick Winters nor his family wanted a monument to the Major personally, other than the one he grudgingly allowed in Normandy (with the express intent of honoring all veterans instead of just the ones highlighted in Band of Brothers), the committee is charging ahead with their tourist attraction. Since there is nothing in writing and no legal prohibition against the artist soaking up $90,000 more of the money that could be used to help specific veterans in need, the football coach, his committee and the greedy hangers on will be putting up a duplicate of the monument in Normandy.

In seeking to honor veterans and one veteran in particular, they dishonor his memory by completely disregarding his wishes. By claiming that Winters “belongs to the American people”, they feel justified in taking his likeness and using it for their own commercial gain. I can’t imagine a way to tarnish the memory of a true American hero any more deeply. Dick Winters was not Mickey Mouse. Dick Winters was not Snooki, seeking the limelight. Dick Winters was not at all comfortable with people placing him separate from other veterans, who efforts were every bit as deserving of honor as his.

Go read the seminal post on the Myth of the Band of Brothers in Mark Bando’s forum for a re-awakening. Easy Company of the 506th was a wonderful company. Dick Winters was a marvelous officer. However, exalting either the Company or the Major over others that the general public simply doesn’t know about dishonors the memory of those men as well as the many others who are equally deserving.

It reminds me of the hobby monument in Gettysburg, of Thomas Lowry’s fraudulent Lincoln pardon and Joe McKinney’s destruction of the Brandy Station Foundation from inside. While I want knowledge of history to spread, there are people who simply do it wrong.



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.



Holding the line for 30 years

When Private Maurice E. Lloyd went out to his foxhole on New Year’s Eve 1945, he may have cursed the cold, but assuredly, he must have thought he’d be warming up in one of the houses behind the lines before too long. Sadly, it would be 30 years before Maurice left the front line.

One of my Christmas present this year was Edward Longacre’s War in the Ruins.War in the Ruins cover Longacre is best known as Civil War cavalry historian, so when I saw that he was speaking up in Carlisle, I had asked Eric Wittenburg about him. Eric had good things to say and my sister-in-law picked up the book for me based on a review she’d read. (Yes, my wife’s sister is brilliant!)

The 100th Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Century” Division, moved into line on the 1st of November 1944 and fought their way toward Germany. When the Germans attacked to start the Battle of the Bulge, the Century Division, fell back a little bit to shorten up their lines as troops were rushed into the Bulge. The Germans tried to take advantage of this a few weeks later, launching Operation Nordwind.

The commune of Lemberg sits in the midst of forest northwest of Strasbourg. The patron saint of Lemberg is Saint Maurice, who Century Division historian Frank Gurley identified as having been a soldier who defended France in 303 AD. Thus, Église Saint-Maurice de Lemberg sits in the midst of the town, looking in modern photos like the tower was destroyed in the fighting and replaced after the war.

When the Germans attacked on New Year’s Eve, Lloyd stood his ground, fighting off Germans until he was mortally wounded. Longacre relates,

Because he refused to withdraw, his fate was preordained: at some point, a Mauser bullet spun him about and knocked him down. The enemy rushed past, leaving him for dead. Desperately wounded, “Mo” Lloyd dragged himself across the frozen earth into a dense thicket, where he found refuge in a log-covered foxhole. (p.14)

When the area was re-taken, the fight swept past Private Lloyd’s well-hidden position and he waited, BAR at the ready, for 30 years, until a local man and his son followed their hunting dog to Maurice Lloyd’s foxhole. Today, the only foxhole in France with a monument was defended by Private Maurice Lloyd for 30 years.



Is nothing sacred?
28 October 2011, 19:33
Filed under: Bizory monument, Gettysburg | Tags: , ,

The Royal British Legion had put up a bronze statue of a soldier in memory of all those from Tidworth who had fought and died in World War II. Unfortunately, with metal prices soaring, two men spent 40 minutes removing the statue one night, putting it in their car, likely to sell off as scrap metal.

I’ve written about Mark Patterson’s vandalism of the Bizory monument before. There is some good news there: when I asked another visitor to check for the vandalism, they couldn’t find it, so it may either have been repaired or been worn down to unnoticeable levels after 18 months. Mark’s was at least trying to make a point with what he had done. This act makes that seem miniscule, but the problem is that when even those dedicated to preserving the memory of WWII feel free to disrespect the monuments, how can we expect the average person to hold them sacred?

I worry for Gettysburg, where there are so many monuments and a history of damage and theft.

Hat tip to Paul Woodadge for posting about it on Facebook.




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