Tag Archives: World War II

The Nightingale

At Mrs. Poolman’s suggestion, I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah after Mrs. P had finished it. I had some initial doubts, since I suspected it was “chick book.” In fact, it probably is, but there were enough other plot elements to keep me interested.

The NightengaleThe book is the story of two French sisters living in Nazi-occupied France during World War II.  Each in her own way resists the Germans. When they were young, their mother died and their father essentially dumped into the care of a guardian. The “chick” part of the plot deals a lot with the two sisters’ ambivalent feelings towards each other and towards their remote and mostly absent father. To be honest, it was this part of the story that kept me from finishing it sooner.

On the other hand, the author places the characters and their family angst into an interesting and active time and place in history. One sister is active in the French underground. Her adventures keep the story moving along. The other sister stays at home and mostly just copes with the occupiers and tries to survive and protect her daughter. About half way through the book a crisis involving her best friend forces her to take a more active role in resisting the Germans. Things pick up at that point.

There is no equivocating about whom the author considers the good guys and the bad guys. Although one Wehrmacht officer is depicted as a decent human being, the remaining Germans are painted as purely evil.

The entire World War II story is told as a flash-back as one of the sisters is remembering it in 1995. You don’t know which sister is the modern character, and I won’t spoil it for you.

I had one major complaint with the book, and it was one I repeated to Mrs. P several times. I wish the author had taken a little more care with the history in which she has planted her story. Time after time she describes war-related events that, if not totally impossible, were at least highly improbable.

She has characters discussing how the war was going badly for the Germans in North Africa before they really were. She has one of the sisters smuggling downed American fliers out of France months before Americans actually began any kind of aerial activity. (There were American fliers in the RAF, so this isn’t totally impossible, just unlikely.) She has an American Mustang (Hannah makes a point of saying it is a Mustang.) shot down while strafing a German airfield in the middle of the night She places this a good year before Mustangs were used in any numbers. And no one was strafing airfields at night any way. It’s night, so the pilots can’t see what they are doing. They also risk flying into the ground or into trees while making low-level passes.

In summary, The Nightingale isn’t bad. I’m not sorry I took the time to read it. However, I think it will appeal more to readers who enjoy stories about women’s feelings and relationships (Mrs. Poolman, for instance), rather than those who prefer a more action-focused plot.

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Playing tourist here at home

We had a fun time last weekend. My sister, Maggie and her next door neighbors, Mac and Candy drove down from Greenville, S.C. for a “history weekend.” Maggie’s husband has taken a new job in New England, so he was out of the picture for this trip.

My sister is very lucky that she has just great friends living right next door to her. Over the years, we have gotten to know Mac and Cindy fairly well. At one point a few years ago, Mac and I were comparing notes and we discovered we had very similar interests in Civil War and World War II history.

Cindy joined my friends and me on our tour of the Louvre during our first trip to Paris in March 2012.

 And the whole gang of us piled into the car for a history trip to Gettysburg in 2010.

We have been talking about doing a “history weekend” here in Savannah for several years. I’m glad we were able to finally pull it off.

We started with a tour of the National Museum of the Eighth Air Force. This is a cool museum with a focus on the WWII air war over Europe.

Mac and me at the 8th Air Force Museum.

Mac and me at the 8th Air Force Museum.

On Saturday, we did a walking tour of downtown Savannah. I played tour guide, and although I’m not as professional as the experts, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Maggie, Mrs. P and Cindy waiting for the guys to get back to them.

Maggie, Mrs. P and Cindy waiting for the guys to get back to them.

Myself, Mrs. Poolman and sister Maggie at Colonial Cemetary.

Myself, Mrs. Poolman and sister Maggie at Colonial Cemetary.

After a seafood lunch at Tubby’s on River Street, we dropped Mrs. P and Maggie off at our house. Mac, Cindy and I headed out towards the beach and Fort Pulaski. The fort is run by the National Park Service. They do a great job. We stayed only a fairly short time, since it was late and the weather was starting to look ugly, but it seemed like our guests really enjoyed it.

Mac and Cindy at Ft. Pulasi

Mac and Cindy at Ft. Pulasi

We finished the weekend off with a low country boil at our house. I think everyone had a good time. If they did not, they sure faked it well. We need to start planning our next “history weekend.” Charleston, anyone?

Winter of the World

I just finished the second part of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, “Winter of the World.” I have been a big Follett fan since I read “Eye of the Needle” back in the 1970s. His two books on medieval England, “Pillars of the Earth” and “World Without End,” are two of my favorites. Follett seems to write best when he tackles an “epic” that encompasses many characters and many years.

The latest book is a follow-up to “Fall of Giants.” In the trilogy, he tells the story of several families, American, English, Russian and German, from pre-World War I onwards. “Winter of the World” starts in the Great Depression and follows the families through World War II – through historical and personal crises. Follett writes a good story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult to keep track of the multitudinous characters and story-lines. A list of the cast of characters in the front of the book was a help.

You don’t have to read “Fall of Giants” first, but it might help. Both are very good, so by reading it first, you can double your pleasure.

Two cool guys

I just finished reading a partial biography of one of my favorite actors – “Jimmy Stewart Bomber Pilot” by Starr Smith. I was reminded that two of my favorite actors of earlier generations, Stewart and Paul Newman, are favorites, not just because of their acting, but because of some of the things they did.

Stewart was already a major Hollywood star when he was drafted in 1941 at the age of 32. He had starred in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” a few years earlier, and had just won an Academy Award for “The Philadelphia Story.” Even then, he was no lightweight. Actually, he was in a literal sense. He originally was drafted but failed the physical for being underweight. He appealed the decision and was shortly accepted into the Army Air Corps. Stewart could have easily taken the path of many of the other Hollywood stars who traded on their fame to sell War Bonds, or make recruiting or training films. Stewart went to flight training and learned to pilot heavy bombers. He flew 20 combat missions with the 8th Air Force in Europe, leading many of them. He could have taken the easy way out, but he didn’t.

Paul Newman is another favorite. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is probably my #1 favorite movie of all time.  He had great roles in other films like “The Sting,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” and “Absence of Malice.”  Late in his career he banked on his famous name and started up a food company. Apparently is all started with a bet with a friend about who made the best salad dressing. That grew into a successful line of spaghetti sauces and other items. What many people don’t know is that Newman never made a cent off of the sales. Early on, he designated that all the after-tax profits from his products be donated to charity. As of 2010, the donations had totaled more than $300 million. Not bad.

Sometimes when I’m in the check-out line at the grocery store, I look at the headlines in the celebrity magazines. Most of it is just scandal. It’s nice to remember that there are (or were) some celebrities like Stewart and Newman.

Dachau, Berchtesgaden and headed home

After Friday night’s , Dan and I went light on breakfast Saturday morning. Besides, speaking for myself, I don’t think I could handle another sausage this soon.

Our first stop was the Dachau concentration camp.

"Work makes you free.:

I think we came out of it with mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a moving experience to walk on the actual site where so much evil was perpetrated. But on the other hand, the actual camp/memorial is fairly sterile. Much is simply a large open area of graveled ground. The museum is sparse.

The former administrative building, now a museum

The ovens inside the crematorium

The execution and crematorium area is landscaped and well groomed.

The crematorium

It is actually like a park. Maybe that is the idea. However, the sensory impact of Dachau contrasts sharply with some of the military museums, especially those with audio-video experiences, we visited last week.

By 11 am, we were on the road again, heading to the Bavarian Alps.

The trip was very scenic.

Along the road to Berchtesgaden

Most of our trip was through a country of rolling hills and small villages. We drove through Berchtesgaden and then up the mountain to Oversalzburg, which is actually the village where all the Nazi bigwigs had homes. Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest was not accessible.

Eagle's Nest is that little knob on the left of the photo.

Apparently the special shuttle buses don’t run for another few weeks. The restaurant was closed at the visitor’s center, but there was an interesting interpretive center, complete with Hitler’s underground bunker.

Dan (right) in the interpretive center

A tunnel in the underground bunker

The four of us at Obersalzburg (l-r) Poolman, Dan, Birdie and Ron

After a couple of hours at Obersalzburg, we stopped in Berchtesgaden. This is a pretty little resort town, but a bit on the touristy side.

Dan in Berchtesgaden

Birdie and Ron had a Berchtesgaden hot dog.

A Berchtesgaden scene. Note the Alps in the background.

It has a bunch of cafés, boutique stores and gift shops.

We headed back to Munich for our “farewell dinner” at the Hofbrau House, a famous, 400 year old beer hall. It was a fun time.

I think the band conductor has had plastic surgery to permantly put a smile on his face.

We were entertained by a Bavarian band, dancers (who looked very bored) and some guys with whips who came out and snapped them in time with music. The hall was filled with hundreds of people at long tables. The beer came by the liter. We all had wienerschnitzel  warn potato salad.

Dan and Poolman. Note the liter size beers..

On Sunday morning, we were out of the hotel by 8 am. bound for Munich airport.  That’s 2 am Savannah time. We didn’t land in Savannah, after three airline segments, until 9:30 pm. It was a long day. On the trans-Atlantic leg, I watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” and three movies.

The Tourist — Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie (Cute)

Morning Glory — Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton (Pretty stupid, but I enjoyed it because of my TV news background. dAt one point or another, I “knew” everyone of the characters in the film. They just had different names.)

Red — Bruce Willis, John Malkovitch, Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker (Pretty good. I love Mary Louise!)

I got a good night sleep Sunday night and was back at work by late morning on Monday.

It was a fun and interesting trip, but I’m glad to be home. Two weeks is a long time to be gone for me.

Walking in the foxholes

We got into the Novotel Hotel in Maastricht late last night — around 9:30 pm. Some of us scrambled for a bite to eat at the hotel bar. A mini-pizza was about the only choice, if you could get the attention of the frazzled and not-particularly eager barmaid. We had big lunch, so Dan and I said “screw it” and went to bed.

Today is another beautiful, sunny day in the Benelux countries, and by the time we are finished, we will see all three of them today. We started in the Netherlands; spent most of the day in Belgium; and will sleep tonight in Luxembourg.

One thing about this part of Europe is we can never be quite certain what language is being spoken. We started the day in Dutch, while in Bastogne, we encountered both French and German. None of us speak any of them worth a darn, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. Birdie has become an expert at dealing with waiters and shopkeepers by pointing and nodding.

This morning our first stop was the American Military Cemetary at Margraten, Netherlands.

The American Cemetery

We spent around an hour there and then headed to Bastogne. Dan commented how impressed he has been with the darn-near-perfect condition of the cemeteries we visited. There isn’t a stray piece of grass to be seen.

Our first stop in the Bastogne area was the village of Foy. (That was the village Easy Company of The Band of Brothers attacked in the episode “The Breaking Point.”)

Foy is not very large.

"The Gang" in Foy

Then we rode back towards Bastogne about a half mile to Bois Jacques (John’s Woods). This was the actual location of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge. We walked through the woods a few hundred yards to the exact position Easy Company occupied.

Treking through Fois Jacques

The foxholes are still evident. Very  cool.

Note the foxholes.

Dan in a foxhole.

We had one more sip of Birdie’s calavados brandy to commemorate the occasion.

(l-r) Ron, Birdie, Dan and Poolman

Our final historical stop of the day was at the American monument to the Battle of the Bulge, at Mardasson, near Bastogne.

From there it was back to Bastogne’s central square (McAuliffe Place) for lunch.

McAuliffe Place, Bastogne, Belgium

Dan, Birdie, Ron and I ate at Le Nuts Café. The restaurant is named for the reply the 101st AB Div acting commander, General Anthony McAuliffe gave to the German’s demand for surrender – not for the specialty of the house.

Some of our gang eating outside "Le Nuts Cafe."

(l-r) Poolman, Birdie, Ron and Dan

I had a Belgian version of a ham and cheese sandwich, but the other three guys all ordered a “croque a bleu,” which was essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with additional cheese melted on top. I had some of Dan’s and it was outstanding.

As I write this, we are on our way to Luxembourg City for dinner and the evening.

Tomorrow, we hit one more American cemetery and then a long (600 km, 360 mi) drive to Munich.

Revisiting Operation Market-Garden in the Netherlands

It was a cold, blustery day here in the Netherlands. Overall, the weather had been pretty good. Several of our days in Paris were great, and the day at Omaha Beach was actually quite warm. Since then it has cooled off, but we have had no real rain to speak of.

When we arrived at the hotel last night, it was after dark, so we didn’t have any perspective of the surroundings.

The Lower Rhine from our window

It turns out we are right on the Lower Rhine. This is the view from Dan’s and my room window. It’s not that impressive a stream.

The hotel is quite nice – just about a mile out from the central downtown area of Arnhem.Th NH Rijnhotel, Arnhem

We piled back on the bus and drove south to the Wings of Liberation Museum near Son, Netherlands.

Arriving at the Wings of Liberation Museum

This is a small museum, but they did a nice job, especially using mannequins in historical settings.

That's Dan on the left.

It also contained a bunch of guns, planes, etc.

From there, we went to the farm where the 506th PIR (Band of Brothers regiment) was dropped on September 17, 1944, and we took a group picture in front of the house.

That's our guide, Steve, in front. Poolman behind him. Ron and Birdie, front row left, and Dan in the back left-center.

The only person missing is Laura, the travel agent, who was manning the camera.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in central Arnhem for some of us to exchange money at the train station.

Near the Arnhem train station

Here we saw very visual evidence of the Dutch’s love of bicycles. People ride them everywhere. Just look at this. This the main parking lot at the train station – no cars, but about a thousand bikes!

Need a bike?

For some reason, the John Frost Bridge, actual “bridge too far” that was the point to the whole battle, was not on our itinerary.

John Frost Bridge -- A replacement for the one destroyed in Oct 1944.

We had time when we got back from our bus excursion, so Ron, Dan, Birdie and I took a hike down to the bridge and (most of us) walked to the other side.

Birdie and Ron at a memorial near the bridge.

Me on the bridge

A view of Arnhem from the south end of the bridge.

We definitely got our exercise for the day, and we can use it.

Tomorrow, we visit two more museums in this area and then finish the day back down south in Maastrich.

It’s been a good trip, but I think everyone is feeling the fatigue. We have four more days of touring then a day of travel back to the US.