Friday, June 6, 2014

Remembering Ste. Mère Église

It was early June, 1990, and we were vacationing in Normandy.  We used our base at Bayeaux to go all over the D-Day sites; somewhere I have a picture of us drinking the local hard cider on Utah Beach.  I was thinking that if I had to land somewhere that day, Utah would have been a million times better than Omaha.

Our excursion took us for dinner in Ste. Mère Église, just inland from the beach.  We sat outside at a table on the square, with a view of this:

Image via La Wik

As someone who grew up in the '60s, I knew the story of the paratrooper who landed on the church bell tower, but I had no idea how that had turned out.  Had he survived the experience?  Did he survive the war?

I mentioned to our (very young) waitress that it's not every day you see someone in full combat gear hanging from a church.  She brightened up and we had a chat about all the American veterans who came to the town each year.  I asked about the paratrooper, and if he had lived.  Bien sur, she replied.  Comes back each year to visit.

Alas, that was only partly true.  The paratrooper John Steele did survive the town and the war, but died from cancer in 1969 just short of the 25th anniversary of the invasion.  I was misinformed.

But the town and the area is worth the journey.  And they like Americans there, or at least they did back then.  It's peaceful, and a long time removed from the day that the telegrams started coming in Bedford, Virginia:
On the morning of July 17, a 21-year-old telegraph operator named Elizabeth Teass went to work as usual. The telegraph office was located in Green's Drug Store. She switched on her machine, pressed a key that rang a bell in the hub office at Roanoake, and typed a "Good morning" message.

Back came a message from Roanoake, "We have casualties," and then the machine started printing a telegram. A sequence number, a name and address, and then the sinister words THE SECRETARY OF WAR REGRETS TO INFORM YOU.

Elizabeth had received casualty telegrams before. But this time, when the telegram ended, the machine did not stop. Another message header and then again THE SECRETARY OF WAR REGRETS TO INFORM YOU.

As the teleprinter clacked out telegram after telegram, she sat there in increasing horror, taking the narrow strips that emerged from the machine and glueing them to the message forms.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.  Amen.


Old NFO said...

Truly a day of horror for those on the home front too...

Graybeard said...

And they like Americans there, or at least they did

Around 2000, maybe as late as '04, a group of late teen to 20 year olds from our church's band went over to Normandy and once the folks realized they were Americans, they were treated like royalty. They just couldn't get over how well they were treated.

Regrettably, it seems kids the age of your waitress in France know much more about D-Day than kids of that same age in US.

OldAFSarge said...

Well said BP.


Borepatch said...

Old NFO, indeed. That's often forgotten, which is why I posted this.

Graybeard, I'm pleased to find that this was still the case a decade after my visit. I was simply overwhelmed with the, well, gratitude of a generation of Frenchmen who had never seen the war. That's a statement on what it had meant to the previous generation of Frenchmen.

Any American who dislikes the politics of modern France should spend some time in Normandy. It's perspective that you will not see anywhere else.

OldAF Sarge, thank you.