75 years ago – Opa’s Last Stand

La Varde 1944 – a Memorial Day meditation

This is a repost of a post I made 5 years ago after visiting the grave of my grandfather Bruno Fritz Reuter, at Marigny German War cemetery in France. On memorial day as a child of immigrants, as an American, I choose to remember all who perish fighting the wars of narcissistic politicians. To remember is to never forget why wars are started. To remember is to never forget the senseless sacrifice of human blood. To remember is to acknowledge that war scars all of us.

France 2014 - 147 of 645 half
THE ROSE WINDOW by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Jessie Lemont

In there: their paws with soundless, lazy steps
create in stillness a confusing stir;
and then how suddenly on one of the cats
your glance moves to and fro, -and then aware,

compelling in her great eyes she takes
the glance, which, as by a maelstrom caught fast, 
swims for a little while, and then - sinks,
and of itself has no more consciousness:

when these eyes, which are seemingly at rest,
open, and, as with a roar, together close,
drawing the gaze into the very blood-:

so out of the darkness once in times long past
the great Cathedral's glowing window-rose
thus seized a heart and drew it unto God.

Original post from 2014:

Why does the death of my grandfather, a man I never met and my father hardly knew, fascinate me?

War is no light matter, we are all touched by it. I have been touched by it. My family a casualty of it.
War is a part of my history.

To bring war out of the history books, out of the television, the newspapers, out of one’s imagination, out of my imagination, I felt a need to retrace the final days of my grandfather’s life.

When my older brother mentioned he was going to France to find Opa’s grave, I had to go along. I wanted to make my history, my reality. I wanted to see and feel the place where the battles of Normandy freed a continent on the souls of so many men. I wanted to own the small fraction of that piece of history that was my heritage.

Opa in WWI.
Opa the soldier in WWI.

I don’t know much about my grandfather. He was born in Meerane Saxony Germany in 1897, a town near the Ore mountains. My father shared with me that my grandfather’s family came from many woodworkers. Some say this region is where many Western Christmas traditions came from: the Nutcracker, Christmas pyramids, and arches, and the famous smokers. He had served as a young man in WWI and received an iron cross for bravery. He was a musician and violin maker. He moved to the Netherlands during the Great Depression where he met my grandmother and settled in Den Hague. It was in Den Hague that he opened a violin shop. And it was here in February of 1943, when my father was only eight, that he was drafted at the age of 45 into Hitler’s war.

Opa the violin maker.
Opa the violin maker in Den Hague.

I wrote in a previous post, that my grandfather was in an anti-tank division stationed in the Netherlands until June 1944, when his company 657 panzerjager were sent to Normandy and deployed in St. Lo area.

In that previous post, I also stated we thought there was conflicting information about the location of my Opa’s death. A document my brother received from the German government said he died in La Varde, which my brother translated as Fort La Varde near St. Malo in Brittany.  A letter received by my step-great grandfather, in 1948, from a comrade who was with Opa at the time he died stated Opa died in a foxhole near St. Lo.

Well the mystery still remains, but I think my brother has found the best answer and that is in a small hamlet called La Varde on the Cotentin peninsula near St. Lo. This was the location of a battle located in the marsh surrounding the Taute river. Americans, under General Macon, were making their way towards St. Lo and discovered a small German stronghold on the hamlet of La Varde. American troops sludged through knee deep mud, threw grenades and fired rifles towards the ill prepared Germans in the late summer afternoon of July 17th, 1944.

La Varde, France
La Varde, France
Opa’s last stand, La Varde. La Varde is a small black box right of center.

My grandfather was killed instantly when a piece of flying shrapnel from a grenade sliced it’s way across his neck and through his jugular vein. He was in France for less than a month. It was probably his first experience in combat.

His body would lay in the muck of that marsh for a few days, until the fighting stopped and the dead could be collected and brought to a proper burial place. Opa’s last stand.

Or was it…

As I walked along the beach near Fort La Varde, the morning we were to visit his grave, I said a little prayer for my Opa. I wanted him to know my brother and I wanted to pay our respects, to say thank you for his sacrifice and to let him know that his legacy continues. I think he was tickled we were there and  we were thinking of him, a person we never knew.

Last family picture.Last family picture, my father is the seated little boy.
In memory of the grandfather I never met - who died too young at the age of 46, fighting a war he did not support.

9 thoughts on “75 years ago – Opa’s Last Stand

Add yours

  1. Hi,
    I just read your blog on your opa.

    My opa was also German and came to the Netherlands.
    Earlier than your opa. He also married a Dutch girl. In fact, twice.
    The second time with my grandmother.
    He was also member of the the 657 Panzer Jager Abteilung (613. PanzJa Kp) and died somewhere in France. My mother (his daughter) misses him now she is getting older. Your story tells me that you miss him too. Just as I do.
    Though we’ve never met our opa’s. Strange things those roots.

    Thank you for sharing. It meant a lot to me.

    Edwin

    1. You are very welcome. Thank you for sharing your story as well. Perhaps our Opas crossed pathes or even knew each other!
      I never met my opa – but I know his death devastated my dad at the young age of ten. Acknowledging his death with my story is one way to let my Opa know that he is not forgotten! And neither is yours!

      1. Edwin,

        I just read your blog from 2014. A sad ending for a gifted man. My father was fighting near La Varde on at the time your Opa was killed. He was a Lt with the 331st Regiment of the 83rd Divison US Army. Fortunately he survived the war and raised 5 kids, but died at age 57.

        I will be visiting the Le Varde area later this year. I will think of your Opa.

        All the best to you.

        Marty Mack

  2. Thank you for your story Mark.
    The blog post was about my Opa but it sounds like Edwin’s was there too. A horrible time in our history.

    Enjoy your trip to La Varde it is a beautiful area.

    Best,
    Rebecca

  3. Hello Rebecca,

    Round this time we think about the people we lost and miss. Even though we never met them. My mom died last year and it makes me even more thinking about opa.
    Strange…

    I have found a little more information about my opa.
    It seems he survived the battle in which your opa was killed but he got trapped in the Falaise pocket. There are no eyewitness-reports on his death but there is quite some evidence that he has been killed trying to leave the Falaise pocket.
    But the search goes on.

    Btw how did you find out where your opa died?
    You see: still a lot of questions.

    Have a nice day!!

    Edwin

  4. Hello Rebecca,

    Round this time we think about the people we lost and miss. Even though we never met them. My mom died last year and it makes me even more thinking about opa.
    Strange…

    I have found a little more information about my opa.
    It seems he survived the battle in which your opa was killed but he got trapped in the Falaise pocket. There are no eyewitness-reports on his death but there is quite some evidence that he has been killed trying to leave the Falaise pocket.
    But the search goes on.

    Btw how did you find out where your opa died?
    You see: still a lot of questions.

    Have a nice day!!

    Edwin

    1. Hi Edwin,
      Good to hear from you.
      We learned of where he died from an inquiry to the German government.
      My great-grandmother also received a letter from a soldier who was with him when he died and gave more detail as to how he died.

      Good luck and Happy Memorial Day!
      ~Rebecca

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