Thursday, May 13, 2010

WW II and my trip to France

I am back now from an incredible family trip to France. 16 of us went. The trip was orchestrated by my father in law, Joe Collie. You see he fought in WWII in the 100th Infantry Division at the young age of 18.

This trip was to commemorate all that the Americans and French did collaboratively to free the French in WWII. Of course we started in Paris seeing all the wonderful tourist sites like Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle, Arch De Triomphe, The Louvre, Luxembourg Gardens and of course the Eiffel Tower. All of this was Grand! But then...we went to Normandy. A most humbling place and sacred too. It was hard not to shed a tear as you studied how the Germans retreated and fought and then to see the gravesites of all military who gave their lives for this cause. I observed my father in law intently through all of these locations...Days later we boarded a train and set off for Strasbourg. From there we drove to the small town of Bitche where my father in law spent many months in and out of foxholes in the freezing rain and snow during WWII. This was proving to be an unforgettable experience.

As they have done in the past the three towns of Bitche, Lemberg and Rimling planned ceremonies for the 65th anniversary of their liberation and we were honored to participate. My father in law and some of the remaining soldiers (25 vets from across the world were present)(there are only about 4,000 across the world that are still alive out of 25,000 who served in the war).

The program went something like this:

May 7: 10 am: a special visit of the Citadel will take you down to its most secret parts, the cells where English prisoners captured by Napoleon 1st were kept in captivity for many years, a most fascinating place. You will also understand why the Citadel never surrendered in the course of history, and especially in March 1945. And we will pay tribute to the Sons of Bitche who liberated the area and who are honored by a plaque at the entrance to the upper level of the Citadel.
5 pm: oecumenical service in remembrance of all the victims of this conflict, civilians and soldiers.
6 pm: review of the troops of the new unit stationed in Bitche, the 16th Infantry Bn followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the War memorial outside the townhall.
7 pm: reception in the townhall.

May 8: 10.30 am: official ceremony in the Lemberg woods at the monument erected in honor of Maurice Lloyd and Seventh Army. Transportation will be provided for the veterans. This story is amazing. google Maurice Lloyd to hear how his body was found some 30 years after the war...
11.15 am: reception in the Lemberg townhall.
12.15 pm: lunch in the Saint Augustine College, a place famous for some Sons of Bitche. Transportation provided by the association of re-enactors and drivers of ancient vehicles.
2.30pm: visit of Schiesseck, the Maginot Line conquered by the Sons of Bitche (only the outside part, the fort having been sealed to prevent vandalism).This was incredible.
5 pm: Rimling will commemorate the battle of January 1945 with the participation of a Franco-German. Followed by a reception.
The three mayors will be greatly honored by your presence at these ceremonies.

Other highlights:
Our children and my father in law visited a school where they sat in on a 7th grade class and had firsthand interviews with my father in law and other vets about WWII. My children as well as the French 7th grade class were in awe of one another.

Each town was extrememly gracious and we were humbled by all the vets like my father in law who had fought through WWII. With Taps playing in the background it was a most humbling experience and as the American Star Spangled Banner played and our flag was risen high beside the French flag, folks embraced one another as if we were all mere neighbors. It brought tears to my eyes.

One other amazing thing that happened on the trip was on our last day in Rimling.... My father in law took us to one of his foxholes, literally it was high on a hillside (currently a beautiful field of canola, if you don't know what that looks like think fields and fields of vibant yellow flowers. Visit my facebook to see the photos...)

Here is the crazy story, across the road from his foxhole was a farm house and barn. He looked across the road and said,"I slept there in that barn one night during WWII." So upon his request, we went to the farm house to ask to see if we could look inside the barn. Sure enough after fumbling through communication barriers of french and english, we learned that this in fact was the barn he slept in (it had been rebuilt since the war). Furthermore, one of the owners brought out an American rifle he found on the land and an American helmet as well as a German helmet. Of course, my father in law donned the American helmet and rifle and stood proudly for a photo opp! :-) There are many treasures like that still remaining across the countryside.

We left for home shortly after that. Witha 9 to 10 hour plane ride home (yes we diverted over the arctic circle due to volcanic ash) I was replaying the memories of the trip in my mind. I do wonder what we would do now if our young men had to go to war like that again. I am grateful for all those who came before us. I hope we all will take note of history among our nations. It is worth remembering....