Monday, June 13, 2011

Honoring America's Heroes: Normandy, France, D-Day Week 2011

June 3rd, Helen Patton and I giving our WWI and WWII presentation in Sainteny, France. Helen held and waved her Grandfather's riding crop as she told his stories from both wars. Photo by Keaton Port-Gaarn

June 3rd, Helen Patton singing "Comrades" to D-Day Veteran, Jack Port, at the Major Richard O'Malley Memorial, Sainteny, France. Jack was with Major O'Malley when he was killed by a sniper and thus Helen's tribute.

June 6th, D-Day, View looking West from Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc D-Day Ceremony at the Ranger Memorial.

The eight D-Day Veterans at the Pointe du Hoc Ceremony.

The afternoon D-Day Ceremony at Utah Beach.

June 10 - Jack Port and I at Utah Beach in front of Stephen Spear's monument to the U. S. Navy's vital roll in the success of D-Day.

June 10 - American Normandy Cemetery - Jack Port's great friend, YPO Vauclair from Caen, France helps Jack fold the flag at the end of the day.

June 10 - American Normandy Cemetery - After folding the flag the two friends stood side-by-side. YPO was ten years old when the Americans liberated his town of Saint Lo.
YPO's gratitude, love, and affection for America and to his friend Jack are beyond measure.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Normandy - D-Day Week 2010, "Cal my pal."

At the close of ten days with my friend, Jack Port (D-Day Veteran) and his grandson, Keaton, there are so many emotional stories. But, one looms large. It is the story of a ten-year-old boy named Cal.

On the afternoon of June 3rd, the Director of the American Normandy Cemetery, Dwight Anderson, gave us a fascinating and heartfelt tour of that glorious place.

At about 5:00 we were finishing when we met a young family that was also touring the cemetery and were introduced to their son Cal. He is a cancer patient and the Make A Wish Foundation had sponsored the trip. Cal’s parents explained that although it has been a difficult journey, he is now doing fine.

Cal is an American Hero. Wearing his 101st Airborne (Screaming Eagles) cap and the world’s biggest grin, he was living his dream. His wish was not to go to Disneyland or a major league baseball game, but rather to be in Normandy on D-Day!

Jack and Cal immediately bonded. Jack called him, “Cal my pal.” At 5:30 the ceremony to lower the flag began. After “Old Glory” was unclipped from the rope Jack and Cal folded the flag together and then stood side by side as “Taps” were played.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

90th Anniversary Ceremonies, Saint Mihiel Offensive, Sept. 13, 2008

Incroyable Mais Vrai!

The rainy day had non-stop ceremonies. The photos (from the top down) represent a few of the day's highlights.

1) The first ceremony was in the village of Fliery, which was on the the front lines.

2) At the reception (Vin d’honneur) following the initial ceremony the first person I met was Helen Patton-Plusczyk. Yes, she is the granddaughter of General George S. Patton and lives in Germany. Her grandfather, then a young Colonel, commanded the first American tank battle during the offensive. As we talked an older gentleman walked up to say hello to his friend Helen. She then introduced him to me. His name, Remi Foch, great-grandson of Marshall Foch, who commanded the French and Allied armies during the war. In the chain of command General John J. Pershing reported to Marshal Foch. The depth and scope of history these two represent is astounding!

3) The first official illumination of the American Montsec Monument. This magnificent monument commemorates the American sacrifice at the Saint Mihiel Offensive. The clouds and rain made it mystical!

4) The last event was a slide show and fireworks display. The slide show was about the American experience in WWI and was masterful! The fireworks - Spectacular!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In My Grandfather's Footsteps, 90th Anniversary of the Saint Mihiel Offensive, Sept. 12, 2008

Honoring America’s World War I Heroes

The Rolling W of the 89th Division was on the move again in the Saint Mihiel Salient. It had rained all night and at 4:00 AM when I gazed out my hotel room window into the pitch black it was still raining. Inwardly, I was pleased because 90 years ago it was also raining and I could walk in at least the same weather conditions. But, oh, it did look nasty out there.

I drove the back roads to the village of Limey, where Granddad and his 353rd Infantry Regiment where when the offensive began. I parked by the side of the road next to an old stonewall and for awhile sat in the car and watched it rain. Then I finally told myself, “Come on, we’re here to do this. Let’s get going!”

Before I swung on my backpack, I fitted a small American flag into a loop on the outside on my pack, so it could be seen as I walked. Then I started out into the rain and the dim, pre-dawn light. After I crested the first ridge, I was filled with confidence and surveyed the gentle, rolling landscape around me. “How peaceful and serene,” I thought, “but 90 years ago this was hell on earth.

Granddad had to have passed the ridge-top somewhere near where I stood and John Hunter Wickersham must have already been killed by enemy fire. History was whirling all around me. I plodded on. The 20-km walk was emotional and introspective but also exciting and near the end certainly challenging, but no one was shooting at me. I remember as I was pulling a hill near the end I said to myself, “Ok, Granddad I could sure use a little help now."

I stayed to the country roads and stayed within the general path where my Grandfather and his regiment must have gone through. It was also lonely; many cars zoomed by without even slowing down as they passed by. But, one young man on a motorcycle beeped his horn and waved, which made me feel good.

As I made my way through the town of Thaiucourt, which was liberated by the 89th Division, I stopped and made a self-portrait at the monument pictured in the previous post. Then from there I had one long, gentle hill to go to reach the American Saint Mihiel Cemetery.

As I made that last stretch, I felt great joy and a sense of accomplishment. I had done it. After months of planning and all the background work, I had made my goal a reality. Soon I was through the cemetery gates, but I had one more important thing to do. This historic pilgrimage was not over yet.

I walked through the cemetery with the white crosses and Stars of David all around me. I stopped at the grave of John Hunter Wickersham, 89th Division, 353rd Infantry Regiment, Medal Of Honor. I swung the pack off my back and set it on the freshly cut grass. Then I pulled the out the American Flag from the outside of the pack and on bended knee placed it at the base of the cross and thanked Mr. Wickersham and all those brave men around me for perpetuating freedom and what they did for our great country.

Yes, John Hunter Wickersham and my Grandfather were in the same Infantry Regiment, but they were also both from Denver. So, there is a good chance they knew each other.

The photos are arranged from the beginning of the walk (top) to John Hunter Wickersham’s grave.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The American Saint-Mihiel Offensive, September 12, 1918

My grandfather, George A. Carlson, was one 560,000 American soldiers (doughboys) who took part in the great American Saint-Mihiel Offensive, which began at dawn on September 12, 1918. There were also 48,000 French soldiers (poilu) in the offensive. The battle was a major victory; liberating two hundred square miles of French territory. Map of Battle Site

My grandfather was in the 89th Division, which attacked from the south and liberated the town of Thaiucourt some 10 miles northward. Because of his diary, I know he was in a trench near the village of Limey when the offensive began. On the morning of this September 12th, I will walk from Limey to Thaiucourt. I will literally be walking in my grandfather's footsteps 90 years to the day. But, I will not be walking alone. My friend Patrick Simon, who lives near Thaiucourt, will join me on this historic trek. We will walk to the monument in the center of Thaiucourt, which is a tribute to the town's suffering under the occupation of the German Army. The monument also commemorates the 89th Division.

From the monument, Patrick and I will complete our journey by walking the short distance westward to the American WWI Saint-Mihel Cemetery. It will be a day of reflection and with each step honor those brave American and French soldiers who fought for freedom so long ago. For me it will be a contemplative time of connecting with my grandfather.

WWI Monument in Thaicourt with the the French soldier (Poilu) (right) thanking the American soldier (doughboy) (left).

The American Saint Mihiel WWI Cemetery

Friday, June 13, 2008

American WWI (Navy) Monument Brest, France

June 11, 2008

For me today was an emotional milestone.

Following the end of WWI and the Allied Occupation of Germany my grandfather and hundreds of thousands of doughboys were taken by rail to Brest, (Brittany) France in the spring of 1919. They then boarded troopships and sailed for New York City. The harbor at Brest was also a major supply base for the American war effort.

Brest was the only place in Europe that was grandfather was in, which I had not visited. So, now I've covered all the towns from were in landed at La Harve to his departure at Brest and everyplace in between.

In the late 1920's the American Battle Monuments Commission built a monument overlooking the Brest Harbor to comemorate all the sailors who gave their lives in the war and the achievments of the United States Navy. On July 4, 1941 the Germany army distryed the monument and built a command bunker in its place. (There is no coincidence with July the 4th!)

In 1958 the monument was rebuilt according to the original specifications. And to build it in the same location it was built over the WWII bunker. So, the foundation for the magnificent memorial is the bunker.

So, I fly home tomorrow and wanted to get another note to everyone.

The D-Day week was -well - incredible. But, I'll have to sort all out later. The highlights were spend the week with my Sweddish cousins, Goran and Bo. Also, much wonderful time was spent with my friends Jack Port and his daughter Deborah. Jack is a Utah Beach D-Day veteran (4th Division).

One unbelievable moment is following the Utah Beach Memorial ceremony, a German military band - for the first time in public - played The Longest Day!! Now that's coming around full circle!

Anyway, it is late and I'm signing out.

Thank you, Jeff

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cantigny, France - May 28th 2008

Battle of Cantigny, France - May 28, 2008 – 90th Anniversary

In the pre-dawn hours of the 28th of May 1918, the men of the 28th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 1st Division made last minute preparations for battle.

They had come from all over America. They were hastily trained, but were eager to take on the German army; the largest and best equipped fighting force in the world. General John J. Pershing, of the American Expeditionary Forces, and the Allied high command (France and Great Britain) chose America’s first strike on the Western Front to be at the village of Cantigny, which is about 60 Kilometers north of Paris. General Pershing wanted to prove to the Allies that America was a full, determined partner and willing to shed the blood of its young soldiers.

At first light the 28th Infantry Regiment’s artillery units began firing on the German positions in the village. The thunderous barrage lasted for an hour and then as the sun rose higher the regiment went “over the top” and charged the enemy with bayonets fixed. The Big Red One charged on to victory and into American military legend.

The spring of 1918 was not going well for the Allies, so the American victory boosted morale and confidence among the French and British troops and just as important it de-moralized the German army.

Thus May 28, 1918 began the American drive that would help the Allies defeat the German Army and force the Armistice six months later on November 11, 1918.

The 90th Anniversary began at 11:00 on Wednesday morning the 28th. It was heavily overcast, but thankfully it did not rain! The village of Cantigny is tiny, only a few homes and nothing commercial. The commemorative ceremony took place in a small, serine park in the center of the community. It was an all-military program.

There were four battalions: French, German, and of course the Big Red One, and a small group of American WWI re-enactors from England known as the Pershing Doughboys. There was also a French Military Band.

The centerpiece of the ceremony was the unveiling and dedication of a magnificent sculpture of an American Doughboy charging forward into the fight. Stephen Spears, from Alabama, had recently completed the sculpture. I told him on the scale of human pride he must be near the top. “Oh yes I am, this is incredible!”, he said.

There were many speeches by Generals and officials from France, Germany and America, but there was on speech that to me stood out from the others.

“After America entered the First World War and the Big Red One struck us [German army] here at Cantigny, it began to knock some sense into us, if we ever had any sense at all. Then the Second World War, well (pause) it was simply good versus evil. Today I am grateful to be living in a free Europe with self-determination."

Christian Duhr, German Military Attache’ in Paris

I talked with Mr. Duhr at the reception (vin d’ Honneur) following the ceremony and he said that his remarks were not officially scripted but came from his heart.

Another meaningful moment was when I talked with American General Cradock (four star) and Supreme Commander of NATO. As I shook hands with the general I said, “It is important to be here and living this history.” He thoughtfully replied, “That’s right, but it is living because we are here.” “How true.” I said.

The victory in Cantigny was an important moment in American history. It marked the beginning of the end of Kaiser Wilhelm’s bid to dominate Europe. No one from a U.S. press company was there.