Remembering Opa: La Varde 1944 – Opa’s Last Stand

Remembering those who fought in wars involuntarily and paid the ultimate price.

The skinny and the fat

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.

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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.

Pilgrimage to Normandy

What would you do if you learned the location of your grandfather’s grave, who died during World War II, was in fact known?

For 43 years I thought my grandfather died during the D-day invasion along the Normandy coast of northern France. I also thought his body was lost to history, no grave, no cemetery.

Two weeks ago I learned from my brother that his burial place is known. He is buried in a small cemetery for German soldiers who were not involved in the D-day invasion. He died a month after that fateful day in history and before another significant but little heard of battle at St. Malo.

On Sunday I begin a pilgrimage to his grave. I will join my brother to pay respect to our family’s history, our grandfather’s sacrifice and to the memory of our father, his son, who passed away last November. A son who never visited his father’s grave.

In a few days our grandfather will receive his first guests.

Join me on my journey.

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