Remembering Them

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

November 11 has been called Veterans Day since 1954 – before that it was called Armistice Day in honor of the end of the hostilities of World War I. My story grew out of an event from World War II.

You would think they might still be mourning the French people they lost in World War II 70-odd years ago (and I’m sure they are). But in spring of this year, the French villagers of St. Père en Retz, on the western edge of the Loire region of France, wanted to honor the Americans who died there on May 1, 1943. A crew of ten from the US Air Force flew a B17 (the Black Swan) out of Britain, one of 59 bombers on a mission to take out a submarine bunker at coastal St. Nazaire that had been taken over by the Germans. Six lost their lives, including the pilot, who was my mom’s older brother Bobby (Jay Robert Sterling). (Another time I’ll tell more of what we now know of the story.)

The people of this region are still so grateful for every attempt by American and British forces to aid them, that between 2013 and 2015 five different villages along the Retz River have  commemorated the soldiers, with several more installations planned in the next few years.

The organizing Committee from St. Père en Retz searched via the internet for crewmen’s family members, then invited us to come to France for the occasion. They were fairly successful – eleven travelers representing four of the crew were able to gather the first weekend of May. (A fifth crewman’s family was able to come later on.) Since my mother wasn’t well enough to make this trip, my sister and I went in her place, along with her son and Husband.

Other family members of the crew had visited St. Père en Retz individually in previous decades, and had each been honored in some way. But this time they wanted as many people as possible as they accomplished several things:  installation of a new History Panel (Panneau Historique); upgrading a Monument listing the names of the crew;  and commemorating this with a church service, and ceremonies at the crash site, to which the entire village was invited.

Six of us were put up at a country manor house of one of the Committee, five more at nearby B & Bs. The villagers were impressed that we would travel all this way – we were impressed by all the work the Committee undertook to organize this, how they welcomed us, and the turnout of the community for the ceremonies.

So it was a weekend full of receptions, ceremonies, speeches, poems, banquets, unveiling of monuments, viewing of the crash site (the most emotional time of the weekend), and touring related sites like the submarine bunker. There was also consulting my LaRousse at every turn as I tried reviving my college French, attempting to remember all the new French names, and getting used to being full of food and wine all the time…  We were exhausted by Monday morning, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It was quite something to be celebrated like this.

All over this corner of France, these Panneau Historique are being created and installed, telling the stories they don’t want their people to forget.

Have you ever been moved by a patriotic event?
Is there anyone you want to remember this Veteran’s Day?

62 thoughts on “Remembering Them”

  1. nice post bir
    the countryside in France has got to be a wonderful place to visit let alone to head vet to be honored for heroic behavior.
    when I was a kid I didn’t understand the war in Vietnam. it seemed so far away and removed from our lives. my dad had been in a wwII family where all 3 boys went over the pond to keep the world free. but that was the olden days
    my experience with nam was personal and terrifying. at age 11 or 12 it started hitting the lead story in the news everyday. friends of friends who were older had stories of dead guys and wounded returns. I knew I didn’t agree with the politics that were sending us over there. my junior high principle had been in Vietnam for his time in the service 20 years older and told us of the conflicts that had been festering for years and years. war is like a chess game played by generals using real people to move on their board game. I resented the premise and while today I am opposed to war and a pacifist to the core, I get it at last after the 911 attack and the bad guys ove in the Middle East today. I would lose it if I were in Obamas position with the handcuffs being on in everything he attempts but I give him credit for his chess playing considering.
    what strikes you as you view war from a historical perch is that these are all very young men being put in the action positions. a few old guy generals and advisors but the action pieces are all 20. they were 18 when Vietnam was in place. geeze… 18. how can you send someone over to a destination a time tunnel away give him boots and a gun and tell him he’s saving the world. now go… no wonder he trauma is so high. I don’t know about the 40’s , I remember e 60’s and 70’s and the lost souls both coming and going from the war but today’s soldiers seem prepared for video games come to life and surprised when you can’t shut off the game console and go to the mall between sessions. we need to stop the bad guys and disagreement will never end but I hope we can discover a way to discuss the differences that need discussing without roadside bombs, rapid fire automatic weapons, endless missions with nameless victims being laid to rest in the name of our cause or theirs. too many 20 year olds and their mothers suffer resignation and stand in a long line of brave young men who stood up to do what was right in the name of what is right in a place where atrocities need to be stopped with the result being a celebration on November 11 to remember their sacrifices. thanks to bobby. thanks to the French for acknowledging the brave young men who came to their rescue. I think wine and remembered everything may be the best way to look back on 1940. we stopped the homicidal maniac who attacked the planet then and we will do it each and every time it comes up. it’s what we do. I feel for all involved, soldiers , victims, families. war is sad.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. and so it goes….

    appropriately it is vonneguts bd

    Kurt VonnegutAuthor profile
    born in Indianapolis, Indiana, The United States November 11, 1922
    diedApril 11, 2007
    gendermale
    websitehttp://www.vonnegut.com/
    genreLiterature & Fiction, Short Stories, Science Fiction & Fantasy
    influencesBreece D’J Pancake, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Joseph Heller, William Mar …more

    About this author edit data
    Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

    He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

    After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

    His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as “Vonnegutian” in scope.

    Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana’s own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat’s Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973) (less)

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  3. The veteran whose memory I cherish is my father, Second Lieutenant George Grooms, whose short tour of duty in WW II was a fascinating and utterly bizarre experience. My family knows all about this because he left us a thrilling, funny and highly readable book of memoir (complete with his personal sketches).

    I have often referred to these stories, or some of them. So I won’t retell them now.

    Most people would say my dad had a pretty good war. He had just one close brush with death and was unharmed by it. He went to war partly because he hated “Japs,” but came out of the war with a higher opinion of the Japanese than he had of US military leaders. He did one heroic thing and was severely reprimanded for it later, confirming his contempt for the military mind.

    My dad enlisted out of patriotism and a fear of being considered a coward. His being at war unhinged my mother’s mind, forcing my dad to rush home to protect her. He thought becoming a soldier was heroic but discovered that in his case he had done so for the wrong reasons, and he was ashamed of that. Instead of being proud of his service he accused himself of cowardice and being a poor husband. Nothing about his service turned out as he had expected. But that’s life, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One memory I have about Dad’s decision about joining the war was that he sought a different sense of himself. He once told me, “Nance, you think putting yourself in a whole different part of the world will change you, but you wake up with the same taste in your mouth in Okinawa as you have in Ames, Iowa”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. IN memory of a friend and former lover who “…served in the Navy in World War II as a frogman in the Underwater Demolition Teams, the original Navy Seals, performing beach recon and demolition for several landings, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Decorations include a silver star, bronze star and purple heart.” He died on Halloween.

    And in memory of my father who served in an Army Medic Unit. They landed in Normandy on June 7…part of his job was to tend to the dead and wounded. The unit proceeded to follow the Germans into Germany. This is as much as I know, I believe he talked more to my nephew and brother-in-law, not much to me.

    In spite of his mother making the world’s best fried chicken, his experience eating semi-raw chicken on the boat going to Europe tainted his taste for chicken the rest of his life. And he never could understand why anyone would sleep on the ground if they didn’t have to. He never wanted to see Europe again.

    David Treuer, in his recent novel Prudence, describes the infantry’s march from Normandy into Europe. As I read it I could imagine my father’s experience was similar.

    God bless them all. Thank you, BiR, for your lovely piece.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. RISE AND THANK THE VETS BABOONS!

    Barb, what a great piece. Thanks for saving this for today. I am moved by most shows of patriotism, even those old vets who crookedly marched in the Iowa Memorial Day Parades of yore, proudly stuffed into their uniforms. They would march, but they would not talk about what they experienced, so most of us could not possibly appreciate what they had done until years later. The event that moved me the most was the flag ceremony at my father-in-law’s memorial service last October. We have the folded flag hung in our house.

    Most of you know I come from such a large family. Many of my uncles served in WWII or Korea:

    William Hoel, Army WWI
    Burnell Hagan, Army, Aleutian Islands
    Leo Hess Sr Army, Germany
    Marvin Conrad, Navy, Lake Superior
    Andre Ordell Rogen, Navy
    Alvin Huether, Navy, Pacific Rim supply ship
    James Hoey, Navy Medic, Korea

    Thanks to all of them, but I wish they would have told us their tales (some finally did in their very old age).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. At both my uncle’s and my father’s memorial services, the flag presentation (and taps at my uncle’s) finally brought the tears. I nearly collapsed when they handed my dad’s flag to me…My stepmother kept the flag…even though it was way before her time he served. But that’s another story.

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        1. I had heard about this installation, Lisa, but hadn’t seen these videos. Thanks for posting the link. Very powerful.

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  6. My paternal grandfather served in the army in France during the First World War. We have a photo of him and a buddy sitting with two French women on their laps, looking like they were really having a good time. Grandpa had joined the army before the war and was stationed for a while in Colorado where he was in the honor guard for Buffalo Bill Cody’s funeral. Grandpa was in an engineering unit and built bridges and dug trenches in France. His brother also served in France, and also served under General Pershing in New Mexico and Arizona “chasing Pancho Villa” he used to say.

    My dad was a waist gunner in a B-17 bomber in the Second World War. He flew over the French fields his father had fought on. Dad was really proud of his service. His buddies in the Last Man’s Club are still meeting in the grocery store in Luverne. They are all in their mid to late 90’s.

    I did my year long psychology internship at a veteran’s hospital in Knoxville, IA. Most of the guys there were Vietnam era veterans, and we were just starting to get the guys from the first Gulf war. They were a really fun bunch, but the work with them was pretty intense at times. By the end of the year I started to have nightmares pretty regularly of being shot and ambushed. I think they call that compassion fatigue.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. A wonderful blog post and what an experience for you. When were you there?
    I feel remarkably removed from all wars. Unlike Jacque, I have no idea of how previous generations (uncles, grandfathers, etc.) served and I don’t know of Vietnam vets of my own generation. Friends had medical exemptions or good “numbers”.

    My own father was 4F and so he drove ambulances for the American Field Service in Burma. The only things he shared were that he had to drive excruciatingly slowly because of the terrain, trying to spare the wounded a pounding and the spiciness of the curry they served, each course getting hotter and hotter.
    He was a madman driver in later life and my sibs and I attributed it to his making up for the years of driving at 5-10 miles per hour in Burma.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. My dad somehow managed to memorize the eye chart when he had his Army enlistment physical, and cheated on the vision test. He often told the story of driving a truck across a bridge over a river in France in a torrential rain storm that would have made seeing difficult for someone with 20/20 vision. His passenger and navigator said, “Turn right.” Dad asked, “Now?” “Yes, right now.” The navigator actually meant, “as soon as we get to the other side of the bridge,” but Dad couldn’t see any reason not to turn, so he turned right and drove off the bridge into the river. He lived to tell the tale, came home safe and sound, met and married my mom, and the rest is history.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Luverne has done a really nice job honoring veterans. Ken Burns inclusion of Luverne as one of the communities featured in The War is still a matter of great pride. They have an interesting military museum in the old jail. It is worth a visit.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. My son reminds me that my mom’s youngest brother, Uncle Harvey, was one of the Frozen Chosen in the Koran war, and had to flee without his boots when his unit was overrun by the Chinese army.

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  11. Uncle Harvey warrents a story here. He was really tall (6’6″) with really big feet. They had no replacement boots for him. My grandma knew a guy in Brookings, SD who was a friend of Hubert Humphrey, and she prevailed on the SD guy to get HHH to intervene on Harvey’s behalf to get some boots. He did, and Harvey never heard the end of it as his commander and buddies thought that Harvey was some annoying VIP with connections in Washington.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. In addition to my dad, I’ve had two personal friends who served. Neither one wanted to talk about their war experiences.

    One of them, Jim, had served three or four tours of duty in Korea and Vietnam. He was a strange dude, with anger and fear boiling just below the surface. He was shocked when the former head of a Vietnamese hamlet moved to Jim’s little town in South Dakota. That was the last man on earth he hoped to see again because Jim and his unit had shot up that village once “in a My Lai sort of deal.” I’ve mentioned Jim as someone obsessed with food, possibly because he was trapped nine days behind Chinese lines in Korea with nothing to eat but grass.

    My friend Gary had a rough war in Vietnam, and he didn’t want to talk about it. He did mention once that he’d killed a North Vietnamese soldier at a few paces when the two of them unexpectedly met face-to-face. Gary was a bit faster with his rifle. He had nightmares every night for years after his service.

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  13. Last week I witnessed the raising of the flag at Gettysburg. That was moving. Standing on the ground where the First Minnesota charged an Alabama brigade was sobering.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I think I mentioned this before, but when my dad was a boy they had a neighbor on the farm who was missing one of his legs. My dad asked “Mr. Croft, how did you lose your leg”? The old man replied, “I lost it at Gettysburg”. It is sort of sobering to know my dad knew a Civil War veteran.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I took a few minutes to check the roster but didn’t find the name Croft among the Minnesota volunteers. He must have served in some other unit when he suffered his wound. It would have been neat to have found his name.

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  15. Wonderful post, Barb! My oldest son, Nick, very much alive at 25 — served in the Marines for 4 years and did a tour in Afghanistan. I am so grateful he came home unharmed.
    My brother-in-law, Tom, who served in Force Recon in the Marines in Vietnam. He worked a lot behind enemy lines and at 70+ still has nightmares. There was a small book written about his unit I believe. He included his own narrative which I read many years ago, and gave me a profound respect for what he had to do.
    Every time I try to sing “Star Spangled Banner” I can’t finish it because I get choked up.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hey all – schools are closed today in the US Virgin Islands and there was a big parade downtown St. Thomas. I didn’t get to see it – went over to Jost van Dyke and St. John for the day.

    I love parades and on 4th of July, I do two of them. We have our little Tangletown parade where the kids decorate their bikes and wagons and the dogs sport red, white and blue bandanas. Then we do the Richfield Parade. If I could figure out how to get a 3rd parade into the day, I probably would.

    My dad was in Germany during his stint. He didn’t see any action but he still didn’t like to talk about it. He didn’t have the right kind of personality for the army!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. My dad and his brother both served in WWII – my dad as a company clerk in the Philippines and my uncle in Europe. They both arrived home safely with just enough time to see their father before he died from heart disease – one an avid pacifist (my dad) the other of a more conservative bent. Their temperaments may have lead them that way anyway, but I think the different wars they experienced did, too.

    The two folks I would really i like to appreciate are my great aunt Lillian who served in the Army Nurse Corps – was quick to sign up and worked in field hospitals in France. Family lore has it that when she volunteered she did so on the condition that she be sent somewhere close to “the boys” – she did not want to be left state-side. She was probably a year or so away from being “too old” to volunteer, but off she went. The other is a good friend of the family who was on air craft carriers in the Pacific (as I recall). Archie only very rarely talks about his service, I think preferring to not defined by it. He worked with my dad at a Lutheran publishing house and is a dear, gentle soul. He is 90 years old today (and hopefully feeing well celebrated, even if he didn’t feel up to company).

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I’m moved by the daily closing piece on Newshour on PBS, the Honor Roll. It’s simple and respectful.

    A very timely and reflective post today, and I love the pictures. The photo of Bobby makes me think of how Vonnegut initally considered using the title The Children’s Crusade for Slaughterhouse Five; the work of war is done by the very young.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Thanks, BiR, for a very thought-provoking post.

    Let me say this as succinctly as I can: I’m extremely ambivalent about Veteran’s Day. In my mind it tends to be a day when we can collectively absolve ourselves of the guilt we feel by thanking veterans for their sacrifices. To my mind, very few wars can be morally justified, yet we have subjected generations of young people – in the past mostly men – to senseless violence and slaughter. I’m saddened and truly distraught that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think this is part of why my dad didn’t like to talk about his service. He wasn’t in messy battles, he would tell you he fought the war from behind a typewriter. But I think he was disheartened that wars continued to happen, that people continued to fight their neighbors. He did not tap into VA benefits and didn’t talk of “army buddies.” I have a sense that he felt that WWII was a necessary war but it should have been the last, that humanity should have learned and risen to become better.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.

    – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    The Second World War absolutely had to be fought. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But we never talk about the people we kill. This is never spoke of.

    – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    I believe in not war, and then I do believe in war, if you have to do it. I mean, what do you do about it?

    – Andy Warhol

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    1. It doesn’t look like it’s scheduled to publish yet; it’s still in the “pending” category, Renee. Looks like there are two posts – both from you – pending.

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      1. This confirms my concern. Dale told us many weeks ago that he didn’t have time to go on writing so much for TB. We have pretty much accepted the challenge of the daily writing. Now I wonder if Dale has time to be the administrator of the site. I’m sure he faces heavy pressures to do his primary job.

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