Bonjour! Nous sommes arrivee! I speak a little French and it has been a thrill to practice and immerse.
Today we traveled to St. Mere Eglise where the 101st Airborn dropped and fought in one of the first battles of the invasion. We saw airdrop sites, homes occupied by Germans, museums, memorials, and best of all we spoke with Henri-Jean Renaud, a man who was ten years old the night of June 5th, 1944. Renaud's father was mayor at the time. He described growing up, unable to travel outside his town, daily life regulated by the Germans, and how it wasn't until the Americans came that he knew life could be different. His gratitude for the soldiers was touching. Some may know Renaud's mother, Simone, she was featured in Life magazine in 1944 tending to Teddy Roosevelt Jr.'s grave. The Renaud family responded to hundreds of letters in the following weeks and years from American families who wanted to know if their sons grave was being cared for. Simone Renaud would send loving letters to mothers, with bits of dirt and memorials from the graves of the boys.
After lunch, we traveled to a manor, four miles from Utah beach, owned by Charles de Vallavieille. On D-Day, this place, pictured with cows to the right was the site of a battle between four German sentries and thirteen members of the 101st Airborne division. The battle has been immortalized in Stephen Ambrose's book, later turned mini series, The Band of Brothers (episode two). The Americans took out the sentries in the hedgerows to the right, then moved toward the manor. The civilians in the home surrendered and while being escorted out, were shot in the back by a rogue American on his first mission. Other Americans quickly rushed them, including Charle's father, Michel, to a field hospital and later England. He survived, and surprisingly did not hold this unwarranted attack against the Americans, whom he saw as liberators. He curated the first museum on Utah Beach that his son now maintains and curates.
We then traveled to learn about another airdrop site where the bloodiest battle of the campaign was fought. The battle was necessary to control a bridge and a road, which would allow the Allies to cut off German access to the penninsula and major ports. This battle was particularly dreadful because the Germans surrounded their tanks with American POWs, so advancing Americans had to shoot at Americans in order to hit the tanks.
We headed to Utah Beach to be where the action happened. We saw the museum that Charles curates, which was probably the most impressive we've seen yet.