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 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).
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.
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, 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.
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.
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:
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.