Father and Son in Normandy

Posted by on Nov 22, 2010 in Trip Photos and Stories

Father and Son in Normandy

Father and Son Share Journey to Normandy

Leonard Patrick, International Experience 2008 & 2010

During a 2006 family vacation to Europe, a chance meeting on Omaha Beach introduced me to Marsha Smith and the Normandy Allies organization. Two years later I took my first trip with Normandy Allies as a participant. It was a trip that was exciting, informational, eye opening and can be described in a word as “Great”.  It was such a tremendous experience, I was able to see places that I had only read about, and was introduced to sights and stories I had up to that time known nothing of. I couldn’t wait to go back. This past summer my dream of returning came true, I was able to again participate in the Normandy Allies experience and what’s more my 13 year old son Kevin would accompany me.

Since I have had a lifelong interest in history particularly WWII, I wanted my son to experience this trip so that he to could share in my passion and reverence for those who have served our country. I was fearful even though he has been exposed to history more than most his age, he would view history like so many of my students (I am a high school teacher) as just a bunch of dates and places far away.

Leonard and Kevin Patrick in Normandy

Ed Kochian, a fellow trip participant took this photo of Leonard and Kevin standing next to the Juno Beach entryway, which has been structured to look like a landing craft. Ed followed up by researching the quote, from poet Paul Verlaine:
“Les sanglots longs des violins de l’automne
Blessant mon coeur d’une langeur monotone.”
(The long sobs of the violins of autumn
Wound my heart with a monotonous languor).
These words were broadcast by the BBC after 9PM news and were intended as a message to the French resistance. The first broadcast was June 1, 1944.

It turns out my concerns were to be unfounded. We both had the father and son trip of a lifetime and I feel Kevin really absorbed what the Normandy Allies experience is all about. Of course it is impossible to relay a day by day account of our trip, rather I would like to share a few episodes from our journey that both of us found particularly interesting and moving.

Like most boys his age he was drawn to the uniforms and weaponry on display. Tanks, Artillery, the glider at Pegasus Bridge, and the big guns of Long Sur Mer all caught his and my attention. He was particularly fascinated by the Mulberry Harbor and its construction. It was the human drama however, which was shared and captured which I feel is so important to experience.

One such experience was our morning spent on Omaha beach, walking the length of the beach taking in the sights. As we walked together I shared with Kevin, “everywhere we walk is likely a place where a young American was wounded or died for our freedom”. Seeing the width of the beach that the soldiers had to run across, the bluffs looking down still containing bunkers, I tried to help him understand what had happened there—the incredible sacrifices of the war.

This sacrifice of course can be seen clearly in our visit to the Colleville American Cemetery. This year at the American Cemetery, not only were the participants able to plant flags on various graves of their choosing, but Kevin along with a few others were able to spread soil from Virginia on the grave of Major Thomas Howie  “The Major of St Lo”. At the end of our day on Omaha Beach, the student participants along with Kevin and selected others were able to take down and fold the flags which flew over the cemetery. It was a proud moment for all of us involved.

There were so many other moments of such feeling during the trip for all of us involved: the Canadian Memorial at the Abbaye d’Ardenne, Walter Ford Carter’s story of his father’s death, the British Cemetery in Bayeux, Liberation day in Saint-Lô, Mr. Jean Mignon at the barn where his family lived during the liberation of St Lo. (see Kevin Patrick’s story, below.)… The list is so very long.

In closing I would like to thank Marsha Smith, the Normandy Allies team and all of those involved in the 2010 International Experience. I would like to say a special thanks to the student participants for accepting and including Kevin in your activities. You all made this a trip of a lifetime for a father and son.

Memories from Kevin Patrick

This summer, my father and I attended a trip with the Normandy Allies. It was my father’s second time on the trip and my first time. It was a very fun and educational trip. We went many cool places such as Pegasus Bridge, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Juno Beach, Gold Beach, Longues-Sur-Mer: The German gun battery, etc. But, the most moving and monumental experience of the trip for me was going to the barn where Jean Mignon and seventeen other people had to stay in during the time from the invasion of the beaches until the time that Saint-Lô was liberated.

The reasons I thought this experience was so memorable and monumental was the way that Jean told the story of how it felt and everything that happened during the time that they were in the barn. When we first walked and when he started telling the story I could feel the claustrophobia of being in this small barn with lots of other people, even though the doors were wide open. I thought it was remarkable how all these people could stay in the barn with little space while a battle was going on right outside. Those are some of the reasons why I thought that experience was so great and I am very glad to have gotten the chance to experience it.

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