France Day 7 - July 20
We started the day at Flavigny Bridge, a site where the Americans took the bridge and then were annihilated by the Germans. Two plaques adorn the bridge, one on each side. The west side honors Cpl. Thomas Downing and says “In memory of Corporal Thomas J. Downing and his comrades of the 60th Combat Engineer Battalion who fell here giving their lives for our freedom. September 10-11, 1944” The one on the east side says “In memory of Lt. Ralph T. Brennan and his comrades of the 35th American Infantry Division who gave their lives for our freedom. September 10-11, 1944”
We headed up a hill to Fort Pelissier, which has been transformed into an amusement park. We weren’t there for amusement, of course. The fort was built in 1878 and was used for artillery in World War I. From the top (and we couldn’t get all the way to the very top where the zip lines start), you can see the entire valley and then some. It’s a perfect observation point and a great place for big guns. In World War II, the Germans occupied it first, then left. When the Allies realized it was open, they took it. The Germans decided they’d made a big mistake and tried to take it back. Bad idea. Jerry said the Allied commander sent his troops into the catacombs (which you can go down into - very cool) and ordered a bomb run on his position. The Germans were unprotected on the top of the hill and didn’t last long. As Jerry said, a ballsy move.
We stopped then at a very cool little museum called “Espace de Memoire Lorraine 1939-1945.” Jerome used his barn to display his extensive collection of World War II memorabilia. From playing cards to parts of planes, Jerome had everything. Jerome had invited everyone to come, I think. We were minor celebrities. The local newspaper was there taking pictures and interviewing people (shades of home). The local people wanted to tell us everything they know and even brought some youngsters to translate.
Jerome told me the first thing he found was an American helmet when he was in Luxembourg. He’s been collecting and displaying ever since.
Celebrity status hit again when we got back to Nancy. We met with the mayor, who thanked us as representatives of America for the freedom the French have today. He spoke very good English so Birgitta didn’t have to translate. We then recreated a photo from 1944 taken on the balcony of the Hotel de Ville, we even made the mayor’s social media feeds, and were dismissed to our own devices for the rest of the day.
A group from the mayor’s office offered to take as many as were interested to see a memorial in Nancy dedicated to American independence. They showed us around the old city and were delighted with us. Birgitta told us this morning that they were very complimentary of our group and said we were very nice. They were quite knowledgable and made it worth the time to walk through the town. We saw one of the city’s first gates that had helped protect the early town from invaders.
The American monument looks like the Arc de Triumphe in Paris. Plaques on the inside of the arc list the names of the French dead from the American War of Independence and other wars.
With the afternoon off, I had lunch with Jerry, Darin, Doug and Nick (I’m feeling a bit outnumbered). We had fun just hanging out and chatting (which is military slang, we learned, for the time the soldiers spent talking to each other and picking off lice).
I went to the light show that started at 10:45 p.m. and covered the buildings on three sides of the square. I was trying to figure out if it tells a story - I couldn’t follow if it did. It’s an impressive show, though. I’m sure it’s all computer generated, but it was neat. It lasted about 20-25 minutes.
More to come as the adventure continues.
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