International Experience July 2010
International Experience: July 12 -24, 2010
Each year our students collaborate on a journal, which is then sent on to the Travel Grant donors. Excerpts from their journals, along with some comments from the other participants, will help to tell the story of this memorable journey to a land rich in history and culture: Normandy.
Our group represented several states and spanned seven generations, creating the learning community that has become the hallmark of Normandy Allies’ annual trip. Team members Marsha Smith, LTC Peter Combee, SGM Charles Frick, and Walter Ford Carter welcomed the participants:
Our travelers this year were: Arne & Deborah Bernstein Abramowitz & Karen Abramowitz (NY), Jordan Beck (NJ), Ben Brandreth (NJ), Bonnie Carter (MA), Rebecca Dewey (PA), Tom & Donna Dinse (NY), Billy Klein, (NJ), Ed Kochian (NY), Laura Marden (VA), Judy Mitchell (DE), Leonard & Kevin Patrick (FL),Larry Reister (NY), George Zana (IN), LTC William Zana (VA)
The panoramic photos were provided by Ed Kochian who also commented: “Everything was good to excellent especially:
- The briefings by Pete and his passion for the subject!
- The juxtaposition of Omaha Beach and the American cemetery
- The individual stories, Jacques Vico, Jean Mignon, Captain Carter, the women at Trevières
- Ceremonies very moving!
- The team—excellent! Charlie, Pete, Walter, Marsha
Thank you!! My trip is an unforgettable experience!! Cicero: ‘Not to know what happened before you were born is to live your life as a child.'”
July 13-14, 2010: Arrival in Paris, coach to Bayeux, Evening opening dinner for entire group; First full day–Orientation Session: Normandy Campaign overview with Normandy Allies Team, Walking tour of Bayeux to include: Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux Military Museum, British Cemetery
I loved having the first day as a walking tour after sitting many hours to get to Normandy. After the day I felt like I was oriented to Bayeux. I also appreciated being able to see the marvelous Bayeux Tapestry. The British Cemetery was so calm and sad. The daily (or more often) briefings were very helpful. The opening dinner was a good way to meet other participants.
—Deborah Bernstein Abramowitz
Pete (LTC Pete Combee, military historian and team member) was very informative on all. British cemetery was beautiful, the sayings on each grave were so moving.
July 15, 2010: Caen Memorial to Peace, Pegasus Bridge and Museum, Abbaye d’Ardenne including Remembrance Ceremony in Jardin des Canadiens
The day began with a visit to the Caen Memorial to Peace. There we walked through an exhibit that began with the Armistice, and paid special attention to the Holocaust and the liberation of France. Afterwards the group watched a short film entitled “D-Day”, which was a compilation of war footage and gave me a sense of what truly happened when the Allies attempted to liberate France. Lastly, there was an exhibit on the war efforts on the Eastern Front, which was something I knew little about and was grateful to learn about.
The Abbaye d’Ardenne was by far the more moving event of the day. Upon arrival we met an historian of the French Resistance, Mr. Vico, who gave us a lecture and then tour of the area, mostly pertaining to its role during the Allied landings. We concluded the day with a ceremony to 20 Canadian soldiers who were prisoners of war and were murdered by the Nazis in 1944.
My relations with the French are improving by the day. This morning I went to breakfast and exclaimed, “Bonjour!” which I would not have been able to do when I first arrived in France. Mr. Vico was a very kind and knowledgeable Frenchman, which are attributes that can be found in most of the natives.
I came away from the day with a sense of gratitude for those Canadian soldiers who voluntarily entered the war and as a result lost their lives. The most striking part about this was these soldiers were just about my age when they were murdered. This fact makes me extremely grateful for the life I am able to have now, which is a result of great sacrifices made by soldiers, such as those Canadians, during the war.
(The Caen Memorial to the Peace is) one of the finest museums of WWII, giving the greater perspective. At the Abbaye, the tour was excellent and the ceremony for the murdered Canadians was very moving.
The trip to the Abbaye d’Ardenne was one of the most fulfilling and moving aspects of the trip in my opinion. It really helped me to better understand the human aspect of the war. The trip to Pegasus bridge was also one I enjoyed. The story was intriguing and our guide was excellent.
July 16, 2010: Arromanches: Circular Theater & Mulberry Museum, Longues s/Mer Battery, Boat trip from Port-en-Bessin
3600 Circular Theater at Arromanches was incredible. It truly showed what the soldiers went through. I believe that we can never truly understand what the soldiers experienced, but this video truly helped expand my understanding of what the soldiers went through as they landed in Normandy. I also enjoyed seeing the German battery at Longues s/Mer. The guns were larger than I had expected and it was there, standing on the cliffs, that the difficulties the Allies faced hit home. They had to rush onto beaches, soaked in sea water and defeat German soldiers in protected concrete bunkers. Chunks of concrete were missing where they had been hit. I would much rather have been in the bunkers since they seemed safer than the beaches. But the Allies were well prepared and were able to overcome the challenges placed before them. All we can do today is thank those men for their services and remember their sacrifices.
Our tour guide at the Mulberry Museum was so knowledgeable and friendly. He expressed such gratitude for the Allied liberation which occurred before he was born. I was also surprised by the many signs around town thanking the Allies for the liberation.
The difficulties faced by the Allies truly hit home today. Without seeing the places where the battles were fought, we can’t understand what happened during the Battle of Normandy. I have learned the facts about D-Day and now I am beginning to understand the reality of the battle.
The explanation on the British operation was new for me. The Canadian story was heart-breaking. I have appreciated having the students on this trip! Every time I look at them, I am reminded of the youths who participated in WWII. They are precious. The Memorial to Peace was overwhelming. I found myself sobbing in a corner. What horror war is!
Mulberry Museum curator’s presentation and 360 degree theater were excellent. The boat trip added to the experience: a view of the beaches, length of the landing area.
July 17, 2010: Open morning in Bayeux, Canadian Center at Juno and Sword Beaches, Reception at the home of Madame Chedal-Anglay
Following a morning of shopping in the Bayeux market, we boarded the bus and departed for Courseulles-sur-Mer. Upon our arrival we strolled around the town and dined. After this, we entered the Canadian Center at Juno Beach, which was the focus of our visit. The Center afforded me a glimpse of the scope of the Canadian war effort, a topic of which I had very little knowledge prior to the visit. Many of the exhibits at the Center focused on the dramatic growth in Canadian military capability in preparation for the war, and I was truly impressed by the contributions and sacrifices the Canadian people made for the sake of the Allied cause.
Following our visit at the Center we traveled to the Chedal-Anglay home, where we were warmly received by Madame Chedal-Anglay. Our hostess and her family treated us to delicious food and drink, as well as a tour of their lovely property. Overall, we were shown wonderful hospitality. In addition, this visit offered a glimpse of what a French home is like.
My experience with the French today was overwhelmingly positive. The kindness shown to us by Madame Chedal-Anglay was truly wonderful. I spent much of our time in the Chedal-Anglay home talking with the Madame’s granddaughter. She mirrored her grandmother’s graciousness, and I found our comparisons between youth lived in France and in America to be enlightening as well as entertaining.
The main thing that I carry away from this day is a broader understanding of those involved and affected by WWII. I gained knowledge about Canada during the war, as well as of the people of Normandy as a whole. In short, I gained a more comprehensive idea for the context in which the war was fought, as well as a more personal understanding of the people affected by it.
Juno taught me about the Canadian war effort, something I had known little about before that day. And the reception (at the Chedal-Anglay home) was very nice, the people have a gorgeous home.
The reception (at the Chedal-Anglay home) was fantastic!
July 18, 2010: 66th Commemoration of liberation of Saint Lo, including wreath laying at Major Howie monument and visits to La Madeleine, Notre Dame, Blanchett Cemetery, etc. Visit to bocage area
The picnic at the Musée de Bocage Normand and the bocage were the highlights of my day. It was so nice not to have to find a restaurant and deal with that hassle. Rather, it was an incredibly pleasant luncheon. I was able to enjoy the marvelous hospitality of the French people against the charming backdrop of old farm buildings and sunny countryside. Not once have I had reason to complain of French food, and the fare provided was no exception.
The bocage was one of the things I’ve always heard about and had trouble picturing. However, today I was given the opportunity to see just how it differed and resembled my expectations. It resembled what I thought it would be in that I had anticipated the low visibility and potentiality of ambush, but the difference was that I did not expect just how drastic these handicaps were. The narrowness of the path, height of the banks, and density of foliage were more than I had pictured in my mind.
As with many experiences thus far on my trip, these two were difficult to leave behind.
My experience with the French today was very favorable. It was interesting to witness the style in which they commemorate the day of their liberation. Their gratitude and hospitality, as I mentioned previously, was so touching, and I was so humbled by that.
There is of course too much to mention, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with our Allies, so to speak: Jean Mignon is a Frenchman, Michael Yannaghas is English, and we are Americans. There was quite a bit of good natured joking and the like today, and quite frankly, it fascinates me to observe that kind of interaction among people. I’ve experienced it before with British visitors on my tours (of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford VA where Laura is a guide), but today was the first time that it’s been a three-way interaction.
Definitely one of the most memorable days of the trip. Really get a sense of the civilian destruction as well as the immediacy of the combat—the entrenchment of the German troops. I was so touched by all the memorial ceremonies during the day and wished so badly that my parents could be there. La Madeleine with all the 29th Division memorabilia and personal explanations would really have raised his spirits. Bocage walk—a real life orientation to the disorientation of battle sites.
—Deborah Bernstein Abramowitz, daughter of 29th Division veteran Stanley Bernstein
It’s a pleasure to have Michael (Yannaghas) for a guide. He is brief, clear, to-the-point, and humorous.
July 19, 2010: Transfer to Grandcamp-Maisy, Graignes, LaCambe Military Cemetery, LeBrec Cider Farm & Monument, Pointe du Hoc, Reception for French host families, students depart with host families after the reception
Our time at Graignes gave me an understanding of the role the natural environment played in the landings, as the flooding of the fields made the landings much harder for the Allies. We were given a lecture about Allied advances across the field, and were informed that many soldiers drowned trying to cross the field. Moreover, we saw a monument dedicated to civilians and Allied soldiers killed during a German raid of a hospital.
Today I met my host family, Mr. and Mrs. Biry. After they gave me a tour of their home, we proceeded to eat dinner, which took wo hours to complete because of the many courses we enjoyed. My family has been very kind and outgoing on this first night.
The varying obstacles the Allies encountered during the landings — obviously the German soldiers gave the Allies a difficult time. But the Allies also had the environment against them, making the landings that much more difficult.
The visit to Graignes was significant for me as it offered a look at both military and civilian sacrifice during the war, something that is somewhat downplayed. The reception at the Dauges’ (my host family) was excellent, the beginning of a wonderful week.
The Lebrec cider farm reminds me of Dad telling me he stayed in an apple orchard the first night he came in at Utah Beach. All the host families (for students) were very nice.
—Judy Mitchell, daughter of James Mitchell, veteran of the 817th T.D. Battalion
Pointe du Hoc was excellent! Being at the sights and traveling through Normandy to understand the geography brings forth the events that cannot be understood from reading or visual shows.
July 20, 2010: Entire morning at Omaha Beach, Remembrance Ceremony at 29th Division Monument, Luncheon with Omaha Beach/Bedford Association French hosts, Remembrance Ceremony at site of first American Cemetery, Afternoon visit to Normandy American Military Cemetery at Colleville, including Retiring the Colors, , Adult/Team dinner at Grandcamp-Maisy
We left our host family this morning and left for Omaha Beach. We walked down the beach to the monuments (at St. Laurent s/Mer). Low tide was a tremendous distance away from any form of protection. The perspective of being in the water looking at land gave me a true sense for how far the soldiers had to go and where the Germans were located.
We also went to the Normandy American Military cemetery at Colleville and saw the graves of the Roosevelt brothers, Major Howie, and others. It is a Jewish tradition to place a stone, as a sign of remembrance, on the Star of David tombstones. It was a touching experience to walk around that beautiful and large cemetery. Our last event of the day was retiring the colors. With hundreds of onlookers, my fellow students and I lowered and folded the American flag. It was truly an honor. I finally returned home after an exhausting, yet amazing day to my host family who made a wonderful French dinner.
As the group and I walked the beach, we saw many people with dogs. As an animal lover, it makes me happy that there are other people in this world that love their animals and don’t take advantage of any lives.
It was touching to see so many interested French people at Colleville, interested in those Americans who died to liberate them. My host father was 10 during the war and remembers all that the Americans did.
Omaha Beach today is so calm and the water is soft and quiet like a lake. As I looked down the beach it was hard to imagine the battle on this beach. One person said there is so much blood on this beach, which put the amount of lives lost in perspective for me. It was extremely moving to place a stone at the graves of Jewish men. Some of these soldiers were not much older than me, and I respect them greatly. It was also touching to see stones already on the graves. Those soldiers will never be forgotten for their bravery, and today exemplified that.
I was not able to understand the scale of the operations until I saw the beaches. Again, it was very nice meeting French hosts. The Remembrance Ceremonies help to balance the realization of the horror.
Very impressed with all Pete’s presentations. Great job.
July 21, 2010: Utah Beach including visit to Utah Beach Museum, Sainte-Mère-Eglise including luncheon with Town Council, visit of the town and the Airborne Museum, Self-guided time in Ste Mere Eglise, La Fière
Our day began with a visit to Utah Beach and the Utah Beach Museum. Following this visit, we traveled to Sainte-Mère-Eglise for a luncheon with the Town Council and a visit to the Airborne Museum. The latter I found particularly enlightening as it offered an in-depth look at the airborne operations during the war. This was a unique opportunity to further my knowledge of a part of the war that, while not as large in terms of manpower, was arguably equal to infantry landings in overall significance.
Our next stop was at the small bridge of La Fière. I found this visit to be intriguing given the size of the bridge. Upon learning of its critical nature, however, I understood why it was so hotly contested. The inundated landscape created a unique situation in which a small stone bridge was transformed into a strategic necessity. Certainly something to marvel at.
The French we encountered on our tour today were as kind and welcoming as usual. From the Town Council members to our tour guide, every Frenchman we encountered was extremely friendly. As far as my family interactions, I am having a fantastic time playing bolter and bocce with the grandchildren of my hosts. The activity helps compensate somewhat for all the wining and dining as well. As far as the Dauges themselves, you would be hard-pressed to find people kinder.
Today, with the visits to La Fière and the Airborne Museum, I began to gain a greater appreciation for the depth and attention to detail which characterizes wartime operations. The war was not simply two lines of soldiers clashing together, but rather a conflict which hinged upon wits and adaptabilities.
I can only imagine what was going on in my Dad’s head and everyone else in his unit, when they landed at Utah. I liked all the films at each museum. They gave a great overview of what happened. —Judy Mitchell, daughter of James Mitchell, veteran of the 817th T.D. Battalion
July 22, 2010: Visit to Chateau de Colombières and overview of the inundated area, Luncheon with Town Council and French hosts in Trevières including meeting with French residents who experienced war and liberation, Wall of Remembrance at Saint Jean de Savigny, Remembrance Ceremony at rue Captain Carter
Today was our last day in Normandy. No one is ready to leave because the area is so beautiful and the people so kind. We began the day at the inundated area where we heard the story of one brave soldier (Lt. Kermit Miller). There are so many stories that we have heard and many more that we will never know. His story was not the only moving tale we heard today. Two women (Sr. Nelle Durand and Mme Lagrange) who lived in Trevières during the war shared their memories of the German occupation and Allied liberation. Their stories were very moving and illustrated the other side of the war. Civilians were deeply affected by the war and more of them were killed than soldiers. We must also remember and honor their sacrifices.
We finished the day with a ceremony at the Wall of Remembrance. Many people cried during the Ceremony even if they were too young to have lived through the war.
For me, the visit to Captain Carter Road was a fitting end to the day. Walter’s stories about his father aptly described many of the people involved in the war. They were both heroes and ordinary people. Everyone on this trip now has a better understanding of the war and its meaning, thanks to Normandy Allies.
Tonight my host parents, Jean Marc and Jacqueline Lefranc, took me to a gospel concert. The group was French but they sang many well-known American songs like Amazing Grace. They also made us dance so I had the unique experience of dancing to gospel music with the town mayor and a member of Parliament (Jean Marc). My family has been so kind to me and I feel I have known them for many years after only a few days. I loved staying in a French home.
Many thanks to Brigitte Brown, SGM Frick, and Ed Kochian for providing the photos for this trip story.
This trip has taught me many things but I will remember the French people the most. Everyone we met was kind to us and loved welcoming Americans. The people of Normandy remember the war even if they were not born when it happened. The Norman people love to tell their stories and share their experiences. I think this is the most important lesson learned during the trip: these people have not forgotten what occurred in Normandy in 1944. We must also remember and honor the memory of those who fought there.
Colombières was a beautiful place to visit. Also I found the museum and the story of the Ritchie Boys fascinating. The time spent in Trevières was wonderful; I loved hearing the stories that the two ladies had to share. The Wall of Remembrance was good and I’m glad that the group stops at rue Captain Carter. Walter’s story about his father is incredibly moving. (Captain Carter was a combat doctor killed by a sniper while attending to a wounded soldier)
The Remembrance Ceremony (at rue Captain Carter, honoring all combat medical personnel) was one of the most moving moments of the trip and I was glad I was picked to give the speech.