Tag Archives: dick winters

Two museums and the search for the lost arch

Our day started cool and cloudy, but later warmed up to a nice sunny day. What a difference a day makes.

Our first stop was the Wings of Liberation Museum in Oosterbeek. This was the site of the British First Airborne Division’s drop and most of its fighting during the Market Garden operation. The museum is outstanding. It is located in the Harkenstein Hotel, which was the site of German General Model’s headquarters before the air drop, and then the HQ for the 1st Airborne Div.

Ron, Poolman, Dan and Birdie

In the front is the apparently obligatory US M4 Sherman tank, although there were none of these weapons involved in this part of the battle. (The British paratroopers had no tanks.) The museum had the usual artifacts, with a focus on the Dutch population.       Its crowning touch was an “Airborne Experience”in the basement.

A mock up of a British mortor crew in the Airborne Experience

This was almost like a Disneyworld walk-though experience with projected images and sound effects, as if you were a part of the battle. Very impressive.

The museum left me with two questions.

The first – why are the Dutch so willing to remember and commemorate this battle? The battle was a debacle for the Allies, especially the British airborne troops who dropped in Oosterbeek to seize the Arnhem bridge. They didn’t keep the bridge, and only roughly 2,500 of the 12,000 troopers escaped death or capture.  For the Dutch, this short-lived liberation went very poorly in the long run. After the battle, the Germans expelled all the residents from the city. The coming winter of 1944-45 was extremely difficult on the Dutch. Food was extremely scarce. More than 22,000 died of starvation or malnutrition.

Yet they commemorate this battle all over Arnhem and elsewhere in the area.

The second questions echoes historian/biographer William Manchester who observed that historians tend to glorify battles that result in heavy casualties.

For example, everyone knows about the Alamo, where all the defenders were killed. But how many people outside of Texas can describe the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto, that was a decisive and overwhelming victory for the Texans with relatively low casualties.

For history, it seems “the bloodier, the better.” And if it is a defeat (like Arnhem) even better still. Market Garden was a tremendous battle, but the other guys won.

From there, we went to central Nijmegan for lunch, only to find we were at the wrong place.

Oops! Wrong address.

Back on the bus and drive to a suburban resort hotel for an outstanding lunch of curry soup, steak with a Bordeaux sauce, fries, vegetables and ice cream sundae. It was not a rushed meal. We must have been there for two hours.

We had one more museum near where the 82nd Airborne Div drooped at Groesbeek.

We then went off in search of “the arch.” In the book Band of Brothers, there is a photo of Dick Winters standing in front of an arch.

Dick Winters in 1944.l

We ended up driving around for the better part of an hour looking for this thing. We finally found it, and the owners of the house were most gracious to allow us to tramp up their driveway for everyone to pose at the arch.

Poolman, Dan, Birdie and Ron at the arch

The arch is part of a 100 year-old farm house on a still-working farm.

We are on our way to Maastricht. Tomorrow we are on to Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge.

A day of airborne history

On Sunday morning, we awoke to a breakfast of ham, cheese, yogurt, fruit and pastries, The buffet included the Norman version of an apple pie and a custard pie. Interesting.

(By the way, click on any photo for a slightly larger version.)

We were off bright and early for a day-long tour focused on Utah Beach and the related airborne operations on D-Day.

"The gang" mounting up

Before we left, Dan and I went for a stroll in the central city area around our hotel.

Central Bayeux looks like the Hollywood version of an older European city. Dan said, he almost expected to see Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” to coming dancing around the next corner, singing “Bonjour, bonjour!”

The sun was just a coming up and the light was interesting. I took several pictures of the thousand-year old cathedral and some street scenes.

The Bayeux Cathedral

A Bayeux street

The Bayeux Cathedral at sunrise

Once on the bus, our first stop of the day was Ste. Mere Eglise, the first French town to be liberated by the allies in 1944, and what Steve (military guide) described as the airborne equivalent of Mecca.

We toured the airborne museum. It was very well done. It included an authentic Douglas C-47 transport, set in a scenario as if it were being loaded on June 5.

Douglas C-47

The C-47 (military version of he venerable DC-3 civilian passenger aircraft) was the plane on which our father served as a navigator in Italy.

From the airborne museum, we walked across the street to the “eglise” (church) of Ste. Mere Eglise.

Ste. Mere Eglise

If you recall the movie, “The Longest Day,” this church figured prominently in the movie, and apparently, it was actually shot here on location. Paratrooper John Steele, played by Red Buttons, got caught on the steeple. To commemorate that, the church still has a dummy and parachute hanging there. It’s kind of cheesy, but effective.

The inside of the church is lovely.

The altar area

There are two stained glass windows that commemorate the liberation, one with the Virgin Mary and the other with the archangel Michael, both with paratroop images in the design.

Stained glass of St. Michael. Note the parachute above his head and the logo of the 82nd AB to the left.

We had a very traditional French picnic with baguettes, pastries and drinks, purchased from a nearby shop.

The picnic.

I had a foot-long, fresh baguette, stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. The French pastry was great. I topped it off with a Diet Coke, or Coca-Cola Light, as they say here. The price came to just five Euros, or about seven dollars. If they opened stores like this in Savannah, they’d drive Subway out of business.

Poolman, Dan, Ron and Birdie at Ste. Mere Eglise

After lunch, we drove to Utah Beach. The museum there is closed for renovation, so to be honest, there really isn’t much to see there.

Nearby, however, we had special access to Brecourt Manor. This is the Norman dairy farm featured vividly in the second episode of Band of Brothers. Then Lieutenant Dick Winters lead a small group of paratroopers to successfully destroy a battery of German artillery that was threatening the troops coming ashore a few miles away. This is private property and not normally accessible to tour groups, so this was a treat. The start of our mini-tour was amusing. The short dirt ramp to the cow pasture was completely covered in cow manure. Everyone spent the rest of the afternoon wiping their feet and picking at their treads with sticks.

Birdie, working his way through the dung.

Steve led us through the pasture (“Rule one – don’t disturb the cows!”) to the adjacent pasture where he outlined the operation.

Dan moving under a fence from one field to the other.

Steve explains it all.

Cool stuff.

Our next stop was Ste. Mere du Mont. We had our picture taken in front of the World War I monument, in the same location as a group of 101st troopers had their picture taken on D-Day. That photo is included in the Band of Brothers book.

Poolman, Dan, Ron and Birdie in front of WW I monument.

Our final military history stop of the day was La Fiere, a crossing over the Merderet River that was the scene of some heavy fighting involving the 82nd Airborne on D-Day.

Merderet River at La Fiere

Close by is a chateau and a B&B. We got to talking to the American woman who owns the B&B. She suggested we walk over to the chateau, saying that the owner is a nice guy and he has a bunch of old souveniers he has collected from the area. The chateau owner,  Yves Poisson was most gracious. He pulled out an old reserve parachute he had.

The parachute at La Fiere

He also showed us some of his collection of battlefield artifacts.

We returned to St. Mere Eglise and had a very nice dinner at the John Steele Tavern.

As we walked down the street to dinner, we passed a vivid example of one of the differences between European and US culture – a condom machine on the sidewalk of one of the town’s main streets.

When you just can't wait.

Sometimes I guess you just can’t wait for the pharmacie’ to open.

Over dinner, Birdie continued his European version of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Dan and I had left our window open in our hotel room, and Birdie and Ron started discussing whether we would have pigeons in our room when we returned. Birdie assured us that if we did have pigeons when we returned, there were no two better people on the European continent to handle the problem than Ron and himself.

“For pigeons, we are like ghostbusters!”

Birdie said he really hoped we did have pigeons in our rooom, because he wanted to use the rocks he collected from Omaha Beach to kill them. Then he said he would cook them overnight on the steam radiator.

“I think if we put a towel down to collect the drippings, we’ll be fine. God knows that radiator gets hot enough.”

Birdie has had a continuing theme of cooking birds in his hotel room ever since Paris.

Fortunately for both us and the Norman pigeon population, there were no birds in our room when we returned.

We got back to our hotel in Bayeux fairly late, and after updating this blog, we hit the sheets for another early day tomorrow.

It’s late here

We had a very good day of traveling and touring today. However, it was a long day and it is late here in Bayeux, France. I don’t have time to do a full post. I’ll catch up tomorrow. Suffice it to say, we did shots of Calvados (Norman apple brandy) on the sand at Omaha Beach.

More details tomorrow. Good night!

Bon Voyage!

This blog is going to take a different slant over the next two weeks. I am joining my brother and two friends on a two-week tour of Europe. We are visiting Paris, Normandy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Bavaria. I am going to use this blog platform as a way of keeping our families up to speed on our “adventures.” Here is the story.

Last Memorial Day weekend, my friend, Birdie, pulled me aside at a backyard pool party at our house and said that he and his wife were planning a trip to Europe in 2012. They were looking for another couple to go along. Like me, Birdie is a bit of a military history geek. The prime purpose would be to visit the D-Day beaches at Normandy, but with additional travels from there. Details to be worked out later. We agreed in principal that we would go along.

Less than two weeks later, I got a call from my brother, who is an attorney in the Harrisburg, Pa. area. He told me about a tour he had read about in the local newspaper. He then went to an introductory meeting. Essentially, this tour is a “Band of Brothers” tour. The official title is “In the Footsteps of Maj. Dick Winters.”

For those of you who might not be aware, the book by Stephen Ambrose and the subsequent HBO mini-series followed the World War II action of one specific company of paratroopers in the 101st Airborne Division, from Normandy, on through Holland, Belgium and Germany. Dick Winters was the company commander for much of the war, and the center point of much of the narrative. Winters was a resident of SE Pennsylvania, and something of a local hero. All that explains why a historical society from Hershey, Pa. would put together this specific of a tour. (FYI – Winters died just a few weeks ago.)

So I got off the phone and talked with Mrs. Poolman. She said she had no interest in going on this military history tour, but I should call my brother back immediately and tell him to count me in.

That put me in the awkward position of having to go back to Birdie and tell him that “I have a better offer.” To make long story short (or shorter, anyway) Birdie found himself a roommate, Ron, and the two of them joined up with the Band of Brothers tour.

(l-r) Birdie, Ron and Poolman

As I write this, I am sitting in the Charlotte (NC) Airport awaiting our flight to Charles DeGaulle Airport.  Birdie, Ron and I will be spending two extra days on our own in Paris before meeting up with the rest of the tour group on Thursday.

None of us are world-travelers, so this should be interesting. I already described my less-than-successful efforts to learn a little French. The only other time I went to Europe was on an Air National Guard junket back in my TV news days. So this should be interesting.

I’ll be posting more updates and photos as time and WiFi access permit.