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?
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.
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?
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.