Saint Lo Seventy Years later

Disclaimer: I have been using the wordpress app on my iPhone for the blogs while on my trip. It is a pathetic application with no way to save a draft so I can work on it on my kindle after posting pictures. WordPress needs to understand that writers like all artists need a sketchbook and publishing straight away is not the best option!

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Saint Lo was mostly destroyed by allied bombing in June of 1944. It was a German stronghold due to its location. We went there hoping to find a museum with more information about the war but were intrigued that the town has chosen not to have a museum with any of this history.

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The original Saint Lo sits atop a hill and it is this area that received most of the bombing. There is a huge placard, if you will, announcing what happened in June 1944. Perhaps the city itself tells the history best?

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The rebuilt Norte dame cathedral is the only relic of the bombing. Can you tell which parts survived the bombing and which are new construction?

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The newer buildings lack the beauty of the previous buildings. The aura of the town on the cold windy and rainy day we were there wasn’t the most vibrant. Although on our way back to the car we spotted a true testament of how time heals.

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A carnival filled with laughing kids.

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The importance of remembering history is not lost on our current leaders. A sign outside a newsstand announces that Obama will visit Normandy this year.

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A grave matter?

Wednesday was the chosen day.

We packed our father’s ashes to drive them to their final resting place. The grave of his father. A reunion 70 years in the making.

From the shores of the English Channel near Fort La Varde, the last location my grandfather was stationed, we drove inland 130 kilometers towards the town of Marigny.

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A drive through the French country side in winter. The green hills, the leafless trees exposing mistletoe, the submerged agriculture fields, the blowing wind and the squalls of sideways rain and sleet. Bucolic? Not so much.

After hours of driving, at the mercy of Seri the GPS, short for “are you serious?” we finally arrived at our destination.

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The Marigny Cemetery for German Soldiers is nestled between farmland. Without the signs announcing the Cemetery one would think it was another field. The flags of Germany, France, and the EU are only visible once you arrive.

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Many of the soldiers here were originally buried in other smaller grave sites around Normandy. Their final burial place more deserving for these poor souls. Boys, men and the elderly forced to fight in a war whose end would not benefit them.

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Thousands of soldiers memorialized by small plaques, some with two names. Trios of crosses made of basalt dot the cemetery. Understated symbols of peace.

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Block 4, row 19, grave 737
It was easy to find.
Private Fritz Reuter August 4, 1897 – July 17, 1944.

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A final resting place for my forefathers. A place for descendants to visit. Proving the resilience of a family and the human spirit.

A day in Saint Malo France

Saint Malo, a fortified city dating back 100s of years, an important center of maritime trade and the closest town to fort La Varde where my grandfather was stationed prior to his death. A fascinating place. I hope the pictures do her justice.

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Solidor tower – a maritime museum paying tribute to the history of merchant mariners and the ships that rounded Cape Horn to expand trade routes from France.

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French sea scouts – scouts mariner.

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Museum of local history houses in a former castle.

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Francois- Rene Chateaubriand – French writer.

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Restaurant and tourist hotel within the walled city.

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Flag of Brittany.

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Scenes of walled town.

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Jacques Cartier- discovered Canada!

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Scallop dredger – I missed the offload!

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A French mothership – these are floating fish processors, they hang out on the fishing grounds so fishing boats don’t have to run to port to offload their catch a costly and time consuming task. Plus small catcher boats don’t have facilities to process their catch or to keep it for long periods of time.

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Map of the beaches around town!

Aeroville – shopping in Paris

I arrived to Paris at 2pm local time. Almost 24 hours after I left Seattle. My brother was waiting for me outside customs just as planned. We can now hop in the rental car and continue our pilgrimage to Normandy by driving four hours to Saint Malo. Well not just yet…

Something was missing. My luggage.

My sweet, pink, hardcase luggage – my bag that has been my trusty travel companion for over two years and 50,000 miles – did not finish the journey with me. At this moment, as I post this musing she is crossing the English Channel aboard a British airways flight. Where did she got stuck? Dallas? London?

While she was cavorting with baggage handlers in Dallas or London, I was forced to do something I was planning on doing later in this trip.

Go shopping in Paris.

How difficult a life do I have when I am forced to go shopping for clothes in Paris?

I was jet lagged. I was stressed from flying for hours. I was anxious to get on the road because based on my original schedule we were five hours behind. I was trying hard not to cry. My bag and her contents are my connection to home. Not just my clothes or my other pairs of shoes. But my beloved coffee I bought especially for the trip – single farm, fair trade, coffee from Bolivia roasted by Intelligentsia and most importantly my valentine “surprise” from my love. Going to buy clothes in this state would push me over the edge and into a nervous breakdown!

The solution from a sweet angel in disguise as an info booth attendant was – Aeroville.

Aeroville is a shopping mall 10 minutes by car from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Aeroville, my savior.

The mall opened in October of 2013 specifically to serve me on February 10th of 2014. How did the developers know that my bag would take a short vacation and leave me like the emperor with no clothes?

Walking into Aeroville was like walking into Northgate, Alderwood or Pacific Place malls near my home in Seattle. What a way to calm my nerves. How comforting it was to see the stores, the boutiques, the food court.

For some photos and a report on the mall go here.

I didn’t go crazy buying. I kept it simple. I wanted a sweater, a pair of slacks, and a t-shirt. The first store I found was Marks and Spencer a sort of British JCPenny. Perfect, I thought.

I conquered the sizing system. Note to self a British size ten is not an American size ten, I settled for a British size fourteen pair of navy blue slacks. A size fourteen sweater a lovely lime green and two long sleeve tshirts. A cool 91 euros got me my clothes for the next few days.

While I was shopping my brother also went shopping. I was happy he was cool, mellow and willing to go shopping for presents for his family. Who knew shopping in a mall in Paris would be so fun!

I hope to have my luggage tomorrow. For now I will continue wearing my new uniform of blue slacks and green sweater.

Go Seahawks!

How a long day can get longer…

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I am in London’s Heathrow airport.
If you read my blog from yesterday this stop was not on my itinerary.

How did I get here?
The flight from Dallas to Paris on American Airlines was cancelled. Mechanical problems.
“We have rebooked you to arrive tomorrow at 6pm.” Said the ticket agent on the phone.
“That is unacceptable.” I responded.
“Talk to the customer service agent at the airport, they will help you get an earlier flight.”

Luckily I was already in line at customer service. The agent booked me on flights that would get me to Paris by 3pm, five hours after I originally was supposed to arrive.

Off I went to wait for the British Airways flight to London. While waiting I decided to check out hipmunk.com to see if there was an earlier flight. Of course there was. I go up to the British airways counter and the agent begrudgingly put me on standby on a BA flight that arrives Paris at 2pm.

I now have a seat on that flight and soon I will meet up with my brother who has been waiting patiently for me in Paris.

I hope my checked bag is waiting for me too.

Long travel day ahead

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This will be my route today.
I am leaving a peaceful, snow covered Seattle, warm snuggles with my kitties and morning coffee with my love. The physical part of this pilgrimage begins with 17 hours of travel.

Four hour flight to Dallas; four hour layover; nine hour flight to Paris. It will be 10am in Paris when I arrive which means one or two am in Seattle.

I am prepared. I am ready for a picnic in the sky- Homemade snacks: crackers, truffle cheddar, gruyere, medjool dates, hard boiled eggs and olives.

For entertainment I have my kindle, my iPhone, two guidebooks and another book to read – Angela’s Ashes.

I feel prepared. Only 17 hours to go.

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Preparing for a pilgrimage

Maps – check
Rain gear – check
Thermals – check
Cameras – check
Passport – check

I have been on countless trips, yet I still find packing a challenge. I check the weather. It will be cold and rainy, just like Seattle. I visualize the terrain, hills, beach, mud and sand. What shoes do I bring? I anticipate events, visiting cemeteries, museums, maybe a nice dinner out. What shall I wear?  Can I just wear jeans, a Seahawks knit cap, fleece and hiking boots?

Allied Invasion June 6, 1944

The focus of the trip will be part treasure hunt, belated funeral, and self discovery. The treasure is my grandfather’s grave. The letter from the German government states that his Grablage or grave location is Cemetery of Marigny in Manche within the province of Normandy, France. One of many World War II cemeteries in Normandy.  Block 4, Row 19, Grave 737 – are the coordinates we were given.

The document states he died on July 17th, 1944 at Fort La Varde near the town of St. Malo along the Brittany coast. This contrasts with information in a letter sent by a fellow soldier to my step-great grandfather in 1948. He states my grandfather was killed in Saint Lo, 137 km away.

After the D-Day invasions of June 6th, 1944, Allied forces throughout Normandy and neighboring Brittany, were charged to clean out the rest of the German strongholds such as the coastal outpost at St. Malo and their land-based outpost at St. Lo. The battles that happened in Brittany including St. Malo were to liberate port cities that were held by the German Army. The Allied forces were also concerned the Germans would demolish railroad bridges.

On July 17th, the day my grandfather died, Allied bombs ripped through the area around St. Malo, and Fort La Varde. This would corroborate the information the government sent.  On that same day in a flattened Saint Lo, having been bombarded by Allied air strikes in early July, the letter states my grandfather was in a foxhole with other German solders as Allied tanks advanced.

A flattened Saint Lo July 1944.

Both documents agree my grandfather was killed by artillery shrapnel. The letter being more descriptive, stating the shrapnel hit my grandfather in the neck, killing him instantly.

The government document states my grandfather was in a Panzerjäger an anti-tank company. A frightful job for a man who was an artist, a craftsman, a violin maker. But why was he in a foxhole in Saint Lo? Why wasn’t he in one of those Marder anti-tank tanks?

Anti-tank – tank – Marder I

Luckily, both documents agree his final resting place is the Cemetary in Marigny, location of the funeral. The days between now and the funeral, plus the days afterward will be a journey of self discovery.