Ted Moon's D-Day 2004 Band of Brothers
now that I put that great Clash song in your heads,
Hello everyone and greetings from London!
Here at the end of the second full day of the D-Day Tour and I thought I'd catch up. I am really doing this for me but since many of you seemed to enjoy last year's blow by blow account, I thought I'd do this again. Like all good email marketers, I will again give you the option to opt out at any time if you get battle fatigue.
Well, this year, I am attending the D-Day tour - 60th anniversary of the as author Ron Drez, who gave a postdinner lecture tonight, said THE Day of the 20th century, not just D-Day. Had Operation Overlord failed, the war certainly would have been in question and probably the history of the world for the last 60 years.
We are with a much larger group this year - so far about 100 people with another 150 or so to join in France in two days. There will be 60 veterans total of all sorts, not just the paratroopers we went with last year from the 101st Airborne, particularly Easy Company of the 506th Parachute infantry, the now famous "Band of Brothers".
But to back up a bit - the trip really started on Saturday night for me. Because of the WWII Memorial dedication in DC, several veterans from Easy were in DC and I got to meet up with them at their hotel along with some other folks from last year's trip. We met Earl "One Lung" McClung, who was on last year's trip with us as well as Francis "Shifty" Powers. Earl came and had a couple of drinks with us and then met us for breakfast the next morning. We also had Amos "Buck" Taylor and his wife. Buck told us about how at the dedication the day before Babe Hefron, another Easy veteran and big time partyer, had a little too much to drink the night before and wasn't doing too well and got a ride back to the hotel from the paramedics because he didn't want to sweat out being on the bus with the rest of them. Buck also mentioned that the foul language in the miniseries was very troublesome to him, especially since they did not talk that way.&n! bsp; That is, everyone but "Wild Bill" Guarnere from South Philly, who actually did.
We also met up with Donald Malarkey, another Easy veteran. Malarkey is a very likeable but somewhat crumudgeny old man. I had met him and Lt. Buck Compton couple of years ago at a symposium in DC for Airborne veterans. When I reminded him of that, he said, " oh that thing where I only had 10 minutes to speak because that Burgett guy was doing all the talking!" He was referring to Donald Burgett, another 101st vet who has written four books on his experiences and is quick and persistent on reminding everyone (rightfully so) that Easy company wasn't the only company in the 101st. He is somewhat resentful (rightfully so) when people only think of Band of Brothers. He may sometimes overdo it and him and Malarkey have somewhat of a rivalry because of Burgett's persistence. Malarkey called him a "world class idiot", making us all laugh but also surprising me that he would be that open about a fellow veteran. In the end! , I guess they are all humans. For my part, I like Burgett. He's from Michigan (Howell, to be exact) and a very nice man and a good writer.
Sunday morning, we went to Arlington Cemetry, where there was another dedication at the 101st Memorial. Earl wanted to go so he came along with us for it . There, several adoring fans wanted photos and autographs and Earl graciously accomodated all of them. However, he had an appointment that he had to get to and I had to play the role of the sports agent that nobody likes by pulling away his athlete and cutting short all the fun. But Earl did need to go to this interview that he had promised and I had to get him there.
The flight over was a direct one to London which sure made things easier. We had an all-male flight attendant crew who dubbed the plane "The Village." I guess that would make them "The Village People." The plane was exceptionally neat with great taste in shades of carpet on the cabin floor. I was just glad that Jack Agnew, our Pathfinder veteran from last year's trip who got hugs from adoring women all across Europe, was not on this flight. He would have demanded we change flight crews.
Upon arrival very early on Monday, I headed off to explore London and the Imperial War Museum by myself since we were free until later that day. It was an exceptionally nice day, more like South Florida than England, but I noticed nobody wearing sunglasses. I guess it's just not a smart investment in this town. At the museum, there were some nice exhibits such as their own version of the Holocaust Museum which is a poor man's version of the one in DC, and an exhibit on Crimes against Humanity. I also noticed they had a whole exhibit on their hero, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, who led all the British forces in WWII. They hail him as a strategic genius and hero but as an American, I had to smirk and let them have this one. I think many Americans would certainly question his prowess (anyone heard of the delay at Caen or Market Garden? two failures where he was either too cautious or too daring) but I was polite.
We met the rest of the group for dinner Monday night. That is when I saw Jack who is on the tour again. This time, he brought his wife Betty, who is a real character in her own right. Having heard of his hugging exploits last year, she came along to keep him in check. The first thing Jack said was "I have to behave this year...Betty's with me." I jumped on the grenade and told Betty that it was all my fault and that I put him up to it but she knew better. Jack talked about some of his war stories and then said "if you think that was hardship..." and then rolled his eyes in Betty's direction.
Jack has done his homework as far as getting exact locations of the graves of his fallen buddies for the various cemeteries we will be going to, including John "Peepnuts" Hale, the guy he had compared me to last year because of his short stature.
The resourceful Jack has now developed a new system with me. He brought his D-Day clicker (the little toy noisemaker paratroopers took with them to identify each other in the darkness - one click, to be responded by two). When he clicks on it once, I am to look and "check out" whoever young lady he points to and we are to walk over in that direction so that he can get another hug. He gave me strict "no patting" orders because he said, "you'll do the patting and then you duck and I'll be the one getting blamed and getting hit...that is how I got my flat nose." That was actually something he told me last year Peepnuts Hale and him used to do.
The trip so far has brought several new interesting people. Some people who are enthusiasts who saved and sold to be on the trip as well as wealthy folks looking for another interesting trip. There's even one couple from Chattanooga, TN of all places (no, Caren, they don't know you - they consider themselves "city folk" compared to Dayton, as they put it). Steph, our bus driver from last year, is back and armed with the CD for the 1920's folk tune "The Little Dutch Mill" which he played over and over and drove people crazy with his own form of cruel and unusual punishment.
Tuesday - D Minus 5
Today, we got the tour of London from a native who showed us St. Paul's Cathedral, the War Cabinet Room, and a driving tour of London.
Our hotel is in Kensington, home of Queen Victoria, by Hyde Park, and an area largely untouched by the Battle of Britain, or simply called "The Blitz" by Londoners. This was in late 1940-early 1941 when the Nazi's bombed London continously to knock out the Royal Air Force prior to them invading England. Well, the brave Brits, defeated the German Luftwaffe, in a heroic home underdog stand, largely due to their grit and cleverness, like the use of radar.
London has a lot of very impressive old style architecture but St. Paul's is the most impressive, I think. Designed by Christopher Wren, who is buried below in the crypt, it is also where Princess Diana was wed, because our tour guide said, "Prince Charles fancies himself as an architect." Some British jab there that I didn't get. Some other cats who are buried there are Lord Nelson, Monty, and many other heroes of England's numerous wars.
Anyway, our tour guide is a London native who has a very George Costanza-like quality in that he likes to deliver his funny punchline at the end of every stop and then move on, as if he was leaving the room. End with a bang.
Back to the Imperial War Museum, this time with the rest of the group. There, while I was making a wiseguy comment about the plastic food display which showed the daily rations of a typical London resident during the Blitz, I met a very nice elderly British couple. The display showed a few unappetizing strips of bacon, similar to what we had from breakfast (the Brits have improved their food preparation since last year but still nobody will confuse them for the Italians, let me just put it that way). The older lady talked to me about how little they had to eat during the crisis. Her husband, William Edwardes, and I then struck up a very interesting conversation. He joined the British Army in 1943 at the age of 16, lying about his age, and once he joined, he ate much better than ever. He particularly liked trading rations with his American counterparts, who in turn, liked the British 14-in-1 rations (one ration feeding 14 troops).!
Mr. Edwardes was a medic with the 43rd Wessex Division and landed in Normandy on D plus 6. He saw action throughout the campaign including the taking of Hill 112 which was a particularly fierce battle against the German elite units such as the 21st Panzer Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division, HitlerJugend Division, or Hitler Youth Division. The brainwashed HitlerJugend was especially tough despite their age (16 or 17 year olds) as they were some of the most fanatical fighters in the German Army. All kidding aside, I mentioned how the British faced some of the toughest units the Germans had in France which most likely delayed their advance. Mr. Edwardes responded by saying that he thought the Americans were "all mad (meaning crazy) when they weren't fighting but were great fighters in battle."
Tonight, after dinner, Ron Drez spoke about the importance of deception in the preparation for D-Day. That included false armies, the use of dummy war materials so that the Germans thought the Allies would invade Pas de Calais, not Normandy, as well as secret double agents such as "Garbo". "Garbo" was a Spanish national who fought his one man army against the Nazis by contracting himself out to the British and giving false information to the Nazis. I would say the best freelance worker this side of Nextel's own Meg Losty.
Tomorrow, we head to the RAF museum and then drive to Portsmouth where Ike gave his order to "Go!" on D-Day after hearing the weather reports.
Jack is trying to meet up with his British paratrooper friend down there and later he will meet up with Jake "McNasty" McNiece, his partner in crime during the war and originator of his unit - "The Filthy Thirteen." Also, he is trying to meet up with Tom Young, another Filthy Thirteen member from Texas. Young, from his photos back from 1944, looks like the prototype "GI Joe". Betty says he still like the rancher that he is.
More later - have a great week everyone!
ps - college lacrosse scores - I know them. :( There
is no Lacrosse God.
ps2 - Tim, please forward to Ed Hartman if you have his email. Forgot to bring it with me. Thanks. We all miss you here.