International Experience July 2008

Posted by on Oct 24, 2008 in Trip Photos and Stories

International Experience July 2008

Normandy Allies 2008: Our 10th International Experience

by Walter Carter & Marsha Smith

Normandy Allies took its tenth annual trip to visit the sites of the 1944 landings and battles of World War II. During July 13-24, eight students and thirteen adult travelers participated in the International Experience with a team of four Normandy Allies’ Board members: Marsha Smith, LTC(Ret) Peter Combee, SGM(Ret) Charles Frick, and Walter Carter.

The team at the site of the first American cemetery, Omaha Beach. Charlie and Walter standing, Pete and Marsha kneeling.

The team at the site of the first American cemetery, Omaha Beach. Charlie and Walter standing, Pete and Marsha kneeling.

The students paused for this photo outside the Sainte-Mère-Eglise Town Hall.

The students paused for this photo outside the Sainte-Mère-Eglise Town Hall. Left to right: Jason Robertson (Mt. Juliet TN), Greg D’Aiello (Pittsford NY), Reid Palmer (Pittsford NY), Michael Pellegrino (Newton MA), Austin Tansantisuk (Newton MA), Aaron Mock (Pittsford NY), Jeffrey Meyer (Pittsford NY), Rebecca Merrifield (Blairstown NJ).

The students were welcomed by Norman host families for 4 nights during our time in Normandy—combining history and culture, as Austin commented: The most significant event that happened during the trip for me was being able to learn and understand about the WWII events and the significance behind them, while also experiencing the French culture via their food, habits, living conditions and general differences from the US. All of these events wrapped together made this trip a real learning experience from a historical and cultural standpoint.

We were fortunate to have among our travelers WWII veteran Don Robertson from Des Plaines, OH (originally with the 147th Combat Engineers Battalion attached to the 6th Engineer Brigade, and later transferred into the 29th Division).

We visited the monument to the 147th Combat Engineers Battalion, located on the Lebrec farm, where the battalion was stationed for several weeks after D-Day.

We visited the monument to the 147th Combat Engineers Battalion, located on the Lebrec farm, where the battalion was stationed for several weeks after D-Day.

Veteran Don Robertson reunites with Madame Lebrec. Don thanked Madame Lebrec for the care given to the soldiers by her family in 1944. Madame Lebrec thanked Don for the liberation from German occupation.

Veteran Don Robertson reunites with Madame Lebrec. Don thanked Madame Lebrec for the care given to the soldiers by her family in 1944. Madame Lebrec thanked Don for the liberation from German occupation.

Don said of the trip: “[I got] massive amounts of new information and knowledge of what happened around me in 1944. This has been a total explanation of the war.”

The other 12 adults included several educators and one lady who lost her husband on D-Day. One adult commented that the trip was “beyond my wildest dreams, a very enjoyable experience.” Another added, “A truly outstanding and educational trip with a good group of people.” The widow’s daughter said, “I believe [Mom] is at peace with the circumstances surrounding her husband’s final interment.”

Our itinerary covered the landing area from Pegasus Bridge and Sword Beach on the east to Utah Beach and Sainte-Mère-Eglise on the west. We toured major museums at Pegasus, Caen, Bayeux, Juno Beach, Arromanches, Sainte-Mère-Eglise, Utah Beach, and Saint-Lô; walked along the shore and bluffs at Omaha Beach; paid our respects in cemeteries at Bayeux, Colleville, Saint-Lô, and LaCambe; inspected German fortifications at Pointe de Hoc and Longues sur Mer; visited Graignes, where larger German forces finally overwhelmed a small group of American paratroopers and executed a number of prisoners and French villagers who had helped them; listened at Trevières to the stories of French citizens who lived under the German occupation and through the liberation; viewed an exhibit in the Chateau de Colombières on US Army intelligence work carried out there by some of “The Ritchie Boys” (See the wonderful recent film by that title!); and stopped at the Bois de Bretel along Captain Carter Road, where Walter’s father was killed while trying to rescue wounded solders in June 1944.

We are grateful to several French citizens gave us invaluable and hospitable assistance in making our appointments and visits: Jacques and Jeannette Chambon, Jean Claude and Nicole Joussard, Bertrand LeJemtel, Joseph Leprieur, Jean-Pierre Richard, Pierre and Collette Labbé, Jean Mignon, Jeanine Vérove, Denis Lesage, Michel Henry, Charles de Maupeou, and (Englishman) Michael Yannaghas.

We are also grateful to our team member, LTC(ret) Gene Johnston, who was unable to be with us in person, yet had made many arrangements for our group.

André Heintz speaking to the group on the grounds of L'Abbaye d'Ardenne.

André Heintz speaking to the group on the grounds of L’Abbaye d’Ardenne.

M. André Heintz (in black sweater on left), former member of the French Resistance, retired university professor and co-author of “If I Must Die…From ‘Postmaster’ to ‘Aquatint'”, gave us an extensive historical account at the Abbaye d’Ardenne, just inland from Juno Beach. Here we paid our respects at the memorial to the Canadian prisoners of war who were executed by German SS troops.

Prompted by SGM Frick, M. Heintz also told of his own experiences as a member of the Resistance before the landings, and during the bombardment of Caen. We were all moved by his story, and by his humble manner of relaying extraordinary events. As participant Pat Stark commented, “André Heintz was powerful.”

Joseph Leprieur (center) welcomes Marsha (left) and the group to Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

Joseph Leprieur (center) welcomes Marsha (left) and the group to Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

The annual luncheon with the Town Council is always a delight—and very delicious!

The annual luncheon with the Town Council is always a delight—and very delicious!

Joseph Leprieur, Secretaire of the Town Council of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, spoke on behalf of Mayor Lefevre and welcomed Marsha Smith and the Normandy Allies participants to a luncheon at the Town Hall. Several members of the Town Council joined us, as well as representatives from the Airborne Museum who later provided the group with admission to the outstanding museum.

One full day of the journey is spent at Utah Beach and Sainte-Mère-Eglise, with additional time at La Fière and Graignes. The airborne assault and the ensuing sacrifices and accomplishments of the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne are a significant part of each Normandy Allies tour.

The group gathers around the bas relief at La Fière, behind Iron Mike, where Pete told the history of the action at this site. Participant Pat Stark commented: "Sainte-Mère-Eglise and the luncheon with the Town Council and visit to the La Fiere Bridge are personal to me since Coach Schwartzwalder—Captain Schwartzwalder on 6/6/44—was my football coach at Syracuse University and his company captured the bridge."

The group gathers around the bas relief at La Fière, behind Iron Mike, where Pete told the history of the action at this site. Participant Pat Stark commented: “Sainte-Mère-Eglise and the luncheon with the Town Council and visit to the La Fiere Bridge are personal to me since Coach Schwartzwalder—Captain Schwartzwalder on 6/6/44—was my football coach at Syracuse University and his company captured the bridge.”

On the July 18 anniversary of the liberation of Saint-Lô, we were honored to attend the commemoration ceremony with Sally Howie McDevitt and members of her family. Sally is the daughter of Major Thomas Howie, “Major of Saint-Lô,” who was killed in action there in July 1944. We were also joined by French students, Lucile and Virginie.

Sally Howie McDevitt meets the American and French students in Saint-Lô.

Sally Howie McDevitt meets the American and French students in Saint-Lô.

Don Robertson was personally welcomed by Mayor Francois Digard at the afternoon reception. Don was made an Honorary Citizen of Saint-Lô.

Don Robertson was personally welcomed by Mayor Francois Digard at the afternoon reception. Don was made an Honorary Citizen of Saint-Lô.

We honored the 29th Division by a visit to its monument at Vierville s/Mer, where we recited the Association’s preamble. At St. Jean de Savigny we were welcomed by M. Denis Lesage, President of the Wall of Remembrance Association, and a crowd of community residents. Against a backdrop of flag-bearers with their display of colors, and following the sounds of the French and United States national anthems, Marsha Smith and Walter Carter (Honorary President of the Association) spoke to the assembled crowd, and the eight students recited in unison a poem in French.

Some special moments:

Mark Worthington presents the history of the British gliders at Pegasus Bridge.

Mark Worthington presents the history of the British gliders at Pegasus Bridge.

Students climb on top of a German bunker at Longues sur Mer.

Students climb on top of a German bunker at Longues sur Mer.

At Longues sur Mer, we can see the jetty marking Port-en-Bessin, the demarcation line between the American sectors and the British and Canadian sectors. In the distance, Omaha Beach is visible.

At Longues sur Mer, we can see the jetty marking Port-en-Bessin, the demarcation line between the American sectors and the British and Canadian sectors. In the distance, Omaha Beach is visible.

We stopped often for ice cream—trying to determine where the best is located. We think Isigny—join us some year and see what you think.

We stopped often for ice cream—trying to determine where the best is located. We think Isigny—join us some year and see what you think.

Our host, friend, and historian Jean-Claude Joussard, presents the history of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. Though the weather was rainy, we spent the morning exploring this amazing site.

Our host, friend, and historian Jean-Claude Joussard, presents the history of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. Though the weather was rainy, we spent the morning exploring this amazing site.

Team member, SGM Charlie Frick, looks out over the cliff at Pointe du Hoc.

Team member, SGM Charlie Frick, looks out over the cliff at Pointe du Hoc.

Bertrand LeJemtel, our friend whose family owned a portion of the land now granted to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, welcomed us for a luncheon at Hotel Casino overlooking Omaha Beach.

Bertrand LeJemtel, our friend whose family owned a portion of the land now granted to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, welcomed us for a luncheon at Hotel Casino overlooking Omaha Beach.

Several people who were young at the time of the 1944 landings gathered with us in Trevières for a luncheon. They shared with us their experiences during the German occupation, the Allied landings, and the days that followed the liberation events.

Several people who were young at the time of the 1944 landings gathered with us in Trevières for a luncheon. They shared with us their experiences during the German occupation, the Allied landings, and the days that followed the liberation events.

Our group approaches the beautiful Chateau de Colombières.

Our group approaches the beautiful Chateau de Colombières.

We were welcomed by Charles de Maupeou, crossed the moat and explored the beauty of this centuries-old edifice.

We were welcomed by Charles de Maupeou, crossed the moat and explored the beauty of this centuries-old edifice.

Charles de Maupeou presented his findings on the utilization of the Chateau de Colombières by Allied forces as a center for psychological warfare after the landings.

Charles de Maupeou presented his findings on the utilization of the Chateau de Colombières by Allied forces as a center for psychological warfare after the landings.

At Utah Beach, we spent the morning. Some gazed out at the water, considering the events of 1944.

At Utah Beach, we spent the morning. Some gazed out at the water, considering the events of 1944.

Some went into the waters at Utah, to have some understanding of what the landing parties might have experienced.

Some went into the waters at Utah, to have some understanding of what the landing parties might have experienced.

Some searched the dunes of Utah for artifacts.

Some searched the dunes of Utah for artifacts.

We spent a full morning at Omaha Beach, after LTC Pete Combee presented the history of the landings.

We spent a full morning at Omaha Beach, after LTC Pete Combee presented the history of the landings.

Pete talks to the group, using portable maps placed on the ground, and provides a history of Omaha Beach.

Pete talks to the group, using portable maps placed on the ground, and provides a history of Omaha Beach.

Pete then takes the group to the cliff overlooking Omaha to experience the German view of the beach.

Pete then takes the group to the cliff overlooking Omaha to experience the German view of the beach.

After visiting Omaha Beach, we go to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, where our students have the honor of retiring the colors.

After visiting Omaha Beach, we go to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, where our students have the honor of retiring the colors.

The trip ends with an afternoon in Paris—here the students gather in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

The trip ends with an afternoon in Paris—here the students gather in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

We gather for an aperitif before dinner.

We gather for an aperitif before dinner.

We share some more stories.

We share some more stories.

And try to imagine how we will explain our journey to our friends and family at home. As participant Dick Wyant said: "This isn’t a trip, it’s an experience!"

And try to imagine how we will explain our journey to our friends and family at home. As participant Dick Wyant said: “This isn’t a trip, it’s an experience!”

Around the corner from our hotel, the Eiffel Tower beckons us for an evening walk.

Around the corner from our hotel, the Eiffel Tower beckons us for an evening walk.

For comments from our participants—see “Trip Feedback

For additional information on our work—request our Annual Report from Marsha Smith. This is available in print-format only; go to our Contact Us page and request to have a copy of our annual report sent to you.

 

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