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

New motto for preservation group: Do whatever you want
26 May 2011, 18:52
Filed under: Preservation | Tags: , ,

The Brandy Station Foundation is a 501(c)-3 non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the natural and historic resources of the Brandy Station area of Culpeper County, Virginia. It used to actually make efforts in that regard. Then, Joseph McKinney became the President of the organization. Now, the organization has published a position statement that states that it is “generally not productive to officially oppose common property improvements”.

I cannot imagine why anyone would bother with a preservation organization that has no interest in preservation of land that is privately owned.

I regularly read Eric Wittenburg’s Rantings of a Civil War Historian and first learned of Tony Triolo’s wanton destruction of the Brandy Station battlefield there. Things got worse with the rains we had here in Virginia, but fortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers got involved at that point, since he was damming a creek to expand a pond in the midst of the battlefield and there is massive erosion occurring.

Newly expanded pond with much over-turned earth

I like to think it’s surprising, but perhaps it is not surprising at all, that landowner Tony Troilo is a friend of BSF President Joseph McKinney.

Craig Swain, who served a year on the Board of the Foundation, notes that it is effectively no longer a preservation group and has renounced his membership. It is a sad day when preservation groups become unconcerned about preservation.

Weekend Wanderings Valentine’s Weekend 2011
13 February 2011, 11:30
Filed under: 517th, Veterans, Weekend Wanderings | Tags:

A mix of links this week, including one historical novel that has a love story to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

  • There’s an interesting sounding novel out called Officer’s Row 1904 that takes place at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego a century ago. Having truly enjoyed watching Downton Abbey on PBS recently, the late-Victorian era and it’s social conventions are starting to intrigue me. It’s perhaps too late to order this as a Valentine’s Day present for your sweetheart, but you could always buy early for 2012! Sales of the book benefit families of Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel in all the armed services.
  • Craig Swann had a good post about the Walmart/Wilderness decision.
  • I’d recently read Battling Buzzards, which chronicles the history of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team. I wanted to understand more about the unit, since I’ve met several of the men over the last few years. They’re having what the think might be their final annual reunion July 13th-18th down in Atlanta and I think I’m going to see if I can attend. Like the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket events, it offers a unique experience to meet history.

Normandy battlefield preservation
16 September 2010, 18:02
Filed under: Gettysburg, Normandy | Tags: , , ,

I was just posting a note to the Easy Company re-enactors about the Gettysburg casino and it morphed into a discussion of preservation and licensing of battlefield guides. As I neared the end of the post, I realized it was really something I ought to post here.

Having spent a number of years becoming familiar with American Civil War battlefield preservation and with the Gettysburg battlefield in particular, I’d been surprised when touring the Normandy battlefields for the first time that there are no French laws about battlefield preservation in Normandy. In theory, you could build whatever you want, wherever you want.

This gigantic silver-winged woman is supposed to represent peace

Having spent a number of years becoming familiar with American Civil War battlefield preservation and with the Gettysburg battlefield in particular, I’d been surprised when touring the Normandy battlefields for the first time that there are no French laws about battlefield preservation in Normandy. In theory, you could build whatever you want, wherever you want. One case in point is the 30-foot tall statue that China donated to Grandcamp-Maisy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. It dominates the surrounding terrain (nothing else is over half it’s height) and especially the monument to the National Guardsmen who fought there. Of course, as we saw at Gettysburg, even having rules would likely not have prevented this well-intentioned monstrosity (though the locals may have rejected it had they seen it in advance). When talking with Paul Woodadge at the time, he felt that one of the good things about having no areas marked legally off-limits to development is that every piece of ground could be considered historically significant and worthy of protection. That is, if you mark only certain areas as protected, you lose the right to oppose development on areas not specifically protected. If I recall correctly, this very problem has occurred in Antietam, where someone put up several statues on their own land that may not fit in with typical battlefield interpretation. In Gettysburg, it’s lead to arguments over whether to allow a casino to be placed near the battlefield or even on non-protected battlefield land. Eric Wittenburg, who is an eminent civil war cavlary historian has noted that even preservation groups might end up supporting this nonsense.

Fortunately, Normandy is in the middle of nowhere from a French perspective (three hours from Paris, mon dieu!) with minimal industry and not a lot of job growth. Being so far from Paris makes it off the beaten track for any internationalists out there and without a lot of infrastructure that developers crave. The population of France is growing slowly – about half a million more people per year, I think – so there isn’t a high demand for new housing. Also, Utah and Omaha beaches are not particularly warm and delightful, even in summer (you see more French vacationers further east, near Honfleur and Le Havre). I’m guessing that if you’re a beach-lover, you end up with choices close to the beaches in Normandy if you want them.  So, there’s not a lot of pressure to put new housing or resorts in Normandy. Melissa and I love it there and hope it never changes significantly.

Having seen what can happen when you do have demarcation lines in Gettysburg – that is, some people will think that anything outside the lines is fair game – I wonder if Paul is right. I would think that identifying the battlefield in Normandy might well be an impossible task because…. the whole of Normandy was the battlefield.

That said, I know that the southern end of the causeway into Carentan is far more densely built than it was in 1944. Similarly, Easy’s assault into Carentan, as shown in the series, approached the edge of town in 1944 (open fields on either side of the road) and now proceeds through an industrial and residential section of town. Carentan is likely the most changed part of the battlefield, since it has some light industry and has grown in population over the last 65 years.

If you wander back north, visiting Angoville-au-Plain, you’ll find that the commune has around 40 residents, just as it did in 1944. The town changed hands several times and I would venture that not a foot of ground couldn’t be labelled battlefield ground. How, then, would you regulate or legislate what these people could do with their land? All of Normandy suffered dearly for being a battlefield, with many civilians killed and wounded, others homeless and all scarred by what they endured. Would it be fair to rule that they and their descendants be again bombarded, this time by regulations? Or should we work to keep the history alive, the appreciation in the hearts and words of the French people and the love of that place alive in Americans? I’m not sure what the right plan is, but I know I want to be involved in ensuring Normandy can remain tranquil and beautiful, a monument to the people and to the soldiers who fought there.

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