Touring with a Band of Brothers
Ted Moon's Journal
Entry 3 - France
Hello all, here in beautiful Holland! I love this country. As Easy's Harvard writer David Kenyon Webster wrote, "What a great country... they all love us, they all speak English..." True, but even better, the internet is reasonable and most importantly, the keyboard is in English. A great time to get caught up.
Back to Tuesday in France, we went to St. Mere Eglise to trace the D-Day night and day activities of the Airborne. After their "Last Supper" of steak, fried chicken and ice cream, Paul Rogers and Earl McClung, both jumping from the same "stick" was misdropped here. Originally, the 101st's drop zone C and D were further south and they were to secure to causeways, or raised roads, for the seaborne forces to use later that day. Plus, capture St. Marie du Mont. However, our heroes were misdropped like most of their cohorts. As Paul put it, there was a huge cloud bank and then flak from the Germans confusing the pilots and Paul and Earl joined with troopers from the 505th PIR of the 82nd Airborne "All Americans" and helped capture St. Mere Eglise and ended up fighting with them for 8 days before finally meeting up with Easy in Carentan.
We went to the exact sites were they landed. Paul said upon arrival in a field behind a church, he ate a D-ration chocolate bar and some water and then was ready to take on the Germans. Earl, jumping only one or two men after Paul landed on the other side of the village, but that figures since the planes were flying so fast that even one second makes all the difference in the world.
Also there, Jack found an old window hinge (small sculpture like thing on the ground) and gave it to me as a souvenir. However, it gave me the heebee geebees so left it somewhere when he wasn't looking out of respect. The thing looked like a tiki and I remember what happened to the Brady's when they found a tiki in the Hawaiian vacation episode.
At St. Mere Eglise is the Airborne Museum. There, we had a chance of a lifetime. A German veteran was touring with a German group and he and our heroes met up and had the first reunion since 1944. It was a chance meeting but just so coincidental that the German was also a paratrooper, or a Fallschimjager, of the 6th Parachute Regiment. The 101st, including Easy, fought the 6th three different occasions during the war and kept running each other. So it figures, the vets meet here. There was so much mutual respect between the two groups and they hugged and shook hands.
Easy fought the 6th in Carentan, Holland, and Bastogne - three times and they won each time - 3-0 record against them. I told Jack, Paul, and Earl that I bet if any of them took on the German now in a fistfight outside the museum, my money was still on them. However, as the German was only 17 in 1944, he is, at 75, much younger than our heroes.
Also at the museum, Jack showed me at the gift shop a copy of "American Warriors" a great photo book on the US paratroopers that I have at home. He pointed out his pictures (several in his Mohawk and war paint) as well as the infamous McNeese.
Later that afternoon, we went to Brecourt Manor. If you saw the miniseries, it is where 13 men from Easy took out 4 big 105mm guns that were firing on to the boys of the 4th Infantry Division ("Ivy" before they changed it to the current "Iron Horse" nickname) landing on Utah Beach. I was very proud of that I am now able to reconstruct the entire fight b/c previous to that, the maps and movie confused me.
Finally, we went on to Utah Beach - significant b/c the folks who would relieve the 101st would come from the 4th division plus elements of the 90th Division ("Tough Ombres"). Utah is a relatively flat beach and with my camcorder, I recreated the scene in which Gen. Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy's son who was Ass't. Div. Commander of the 4th), recognizing they landed in the wrong place, made the executive decision - "we're going to start the war from right here." ok, that was a goofy moment on this trip.
On the way back, we stopped at St. Marie du Mont, Easy's rallying point on D-Day where many now famous photos were shot on D plus 1, and the farm house where Jack spent the first night in France. One thing about Normandy is its abundance of hedgerows, tall bushes that separate farm from farm. It is prime defensive ground giving much advantage to the German defenders offering concealment.
That night, I got with three other people, rented a car, and drove up to Caen to visit Pegasus Bridge. This is where a glider-borne unit of the British 6th Airborne captured a critical bridge and "held until relieved" as show in the movie "The Longest Day." The Oxfordshire and Buckingham battalion (or "Ox and Bucks") came within about 30 yards of the bridge (amazing accuracy), overwhelmed the German garrison and captured it. On the way back, we had the drive back to our hotel - a silent ride since we were lost and it was dark - just like it was in 1944.
The next day, we started with Omaha Beach. The cemetry is very emotional as I mentioned yesterday. Earl and Paul laid flowers down where their friend Terrence "Salty" Harris is buried. He was in Lt. Meehan's stick that was shot down. They spoke of how he held 3rd platoon together and then saluted his cross. I doing everything I could to not get teary eyed. Jack wanted to be alone most the time we were there and he sped away by himself and the rest of us was trying to keep up like in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. He then came up to me and pointed to John Hale's cross. Hale was one of the guys that Jack told us many off color but funny stories about. But he didn't mention that he was killed in Carentan. "Peanut" as he was called b/c of his height, was a clever little guy and seemingly quite the character in his own right and Jack was not the jovial Jack today at the cemetry.
We headed to Carentan, an vital crossroads village which the 101st captured about a week after D-Day. The street to street fighting was fierce against the German Fallschimmjagers. Traveling with Paul, Earl, and Jack is like traveling with rock stars. They received a medal at the Airborne Museum, but also now the mayor of Carentan gave them medals as well. After the ceremony, they passed out champagne. And I couldn't believe my own ears when I joined everyone else in toasting, "Vive La France!" I have to say, the French in Normandy are very nice so I broke down and did it.
Another big once in a lifetime event is that Jack, pictured in a shot in Carentan with several young French women, in the book "101st Airborne in Normandy" actually met up with the women in the picture. They had lunch together and although it's been 59 years, they act as if it was last week that they last saw each other. Another priceless moment.
We then rode to Paris to spend the night. Paris sucks. Paris is like NYC with a French accent. Dirty, dense, and here are the rude French. Neil, our retired United pilot, knew of a great restaurant so once again, I deviated from teh main group and went with a smaller group. We brought Earl with us and Neil was right. We were honored to have our celebrity guest with us and there was no way were going to let Earl pay for his dinner. Because of all the pickpockets in Paris, we made an effort to protect the vets. However, Earl walked so fast that I had trouble keeping up! Earl, who has never been on a computer, helped me get my key card to work at the Paris hotel. Go figure. By the way, both Earl and Paul have taken to calling me "Moon." It is after one of their friends Don Moone, another Easy member. Moone is shown in a often seen picture with Earl in Holland. He later became president of Ketchum advertising.
Today, we took a fast train from Paris to Brussels and then our driver, Steph, picked us up (he had driven straight from Paris) and then we went to Holland. Steph is our driver/Europe tour guide and do all for us. A great guy who used to own a restaurant, he is originally from Eindhoven and his parents were liberated by Easy company. His bus that we go everywhere on is decorated with the 101st's Screaming Eagle shoulder patch design as well as that of the 506th PIR and there are many photos of Easy company all over the bus...sort of like decorating a room for a birthday party.
Like I said, I love Holland. We first went to the Wilhelmina Canal bridge that Easy attempted to take but Germans blew up at the last minute and then Son or Zon, where they captured on September 17, 1944 after jumping into almost perfect formation. Unlike D-Day, everyone dropped exactly where they had to and there was much more order. Paul and Earl crossed the canal and ended up staying on the other side of the canal that night. Later, Earl and Don Moone knocked out an entire truckful of Germans when Moone shot a grenade launcher into it. Earl noted that this was Don Moone's one claim to fame in combat was this action b/c "Don wasn't much of a soldier...you see, he was a lover, not a fighter."
Late this p.m., Steph gave us a walking tour of Eindhoven, the sleepy little town turned modern, decent sized city that it is now. Eindhoven was the 101st's primary objective of Operation Market Garden that was the first action both the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions participated in after a two month rest after being relieved in July in France. Market Garden dropped three airborne divisions behind enemy lines (last being the British 1st "Red Devils") and the British 30th Corps would "run like hell" to link up with them in Holland.
Eindhoven is the village that has the big celebration upon the arrival of the 101st in the streets. This celebration actually really slowed down the advance of the 101st in reaching their objectives of capturing their 4 bridges. The whole operation was about capturing 9 bridges in Holland leading to the Rhine in Germany, hence the movie title "A Bridge Too Far" back in the late 70s, the movie that started my personal interest in military history.
Dinner was at the restaurant that Steph once owned - it was very good, but very small.
One last note on this very long note - I had to get caught up - the people on this trip are great for the most part. Like I said, I'm definitely one of the youngest and get this, one of the least knowledgeable. There are some hard core, serious history buffs here who know minutia that even I would consider just details. These guys pretty much thumb their noses to the movie versions, little interest other than history (no sports talk - I'm starting to go crazy), and are serious military buffs. I have found some other well-rounded people to talk about something other than Band of Brothers on occasions. Neil, the retired United pilot, Walt, an older guy from Bethesda who talks just like our friend Prudence from Devon Direct (I swear he is the male version of Prudence in the way he talks), and all the married couples since they are generally more balanced.
Anyway, sorry for the long message but that is the update. hope all is well. Tomorrow, it's off to The Island and Arnhem in Day 2 of Market Garden.
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