France 2015

This year we travel to France to see Claude Monet’s famous gardens and home in Giverny, the Normandy monastery Mont Saint-Michel, and the World War II D-Day invasion locations of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Arromanches, and Juno Beach. Highlights also include an interview with World War II Veteran Montelle Imsdahl, 66th Infantry Division, U.S. Army.

Video 5 of 14 from Brad and Sue's France 2015 vacation.

Giverny is a small French village in Normandy located on the River Seine about 50 miles northwest of Paris. The town is best known as the location of Claude Monet’s famous gardens and home.

Claude Monet was born on November 14th, 1840 and died on December 5th 1926 at the age of 86. He was the founder of French Impressionist painting. The term Impressionism comes from his painting, Impression, Sunrise, which was first exhibited in 1874 in Paris. He moved to Giverny in 1883 where he purchased a house and property to begin a vast landscaping project which included lily ponds that would become the subjects of his best-known works.

Monet and other impressionist artists in Paris were met with rejection from the traditional conservative art establishment. Rather than painting a picture of something like it is a photograph, impressionism is about the understanding of the effects of light on the local color of objects, and the effects of the juxtaposition of colors with each other. The artist is focused on recreating the effects of light and reflections, thinking in terms of colors and shapes rather than scenes and objects.

In 2004, his painting London, the Parliament, Effects of Sun in the Fog, sold for $20.1 million. In 2008, his painting of a railway bridge sold for $41.4 million. And just a few weeks later, a painting from the water lilies series, sold for a record $80,451,178, representing one of the top 20 highest prices paid for a painting at the time.

Mont Saint-Michel
Video 8 of 14 from Brad and Sue's France 2015 vacation.

Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky island about one half mile off the coast of France at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. The island is 247 acres in size, stands 300 feet above sea level at its highest point, and has a population of about 50. It was amazing how large this thing is, sticking up out of the flat sandy tide water bay. It is much different seeing it in person than seeing it in pictures and video.

Its unique position of being an island a half mile from land made it readily accessible at low tide for the many pilgrims to its abbey. At the same time, this made it defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would be assailants. The tides here can range from as much as 46 feet between high and low water marks. By capitalizing on this natural defense, the Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War with a small garrison successfully defending it against a full attack by the English in 1433.

Use of the island as a fort dates back to the times of the Romans. It was first used as a monastery in the 8th century. Legend has it that in 708 the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky island. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel’s instruction until Michael burned a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger. Today it attracts some 3 million tourists each year.

There used to be a parking lot next to the Abby so that visitors could drive out and park. However, a few years ago they decided it was ruining the environment with too much land eroding into the low tide mud flats. It originally was just an Island during high tide, with people having to walk out on a path that was uncovered during low tide. Then they built a peninsula in 1879 so that the path was above the water level even at high tide. We could see all the excavators out there digging up the sand and gravel.

With the parking lot removed, you either have to walk or take a bus. They have a parking place on the mainland for people to park their cars and catch a free bus ride every 6 minutes out to the Abby and back. It is about a 45 minute walk if you don’t take the bus.

After taking the bus, we walked into the entrance gate and were greeted with shops and crowds, all along narrow corridors that slowly go up hill and around the island. There is definitely plenty of selling and money changing going on in the temple here, with gift shops, restaurants, and ATM machines so you can get more cash to buy even more.

Then the stairs, up, up, up, more stairs….we took our time and Sue took her inhaler before going up, which was a big help. The actual church was on the very top. When you get to that entrance, there are even more stairs. Eventually you get to a point where you have to pay money to go inside. Lothar seemed offended that you would have to pay money to go in where Jesus was. I reminded him of the scripture in the Bible where Jesus said to give free because you received free. He said he knew that scripture as he has read the Bible several times. We decided to not pay money to go inside the church, so we started to make our way back down all those stairs. There were plenty of places where we could stop to enjoy the view.

The War – Part 1: Normandy D-Day Memorial Tour 2015
Video 11 of 14 from Brad and Sue's France 2015 vacation.

The invasion of Normandy (D-Day) was the largest seaborne invasion in history with over 5,000 vessels and 160,000 troops crossing the English Channel on June 6, 1944. The invasion began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory in World War II.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault. Some 24,000 paratroopers and troops in gliders were flown inland behind the beaches shortly after midnight to seize key objectives such as bridges, road crossings, terrain features, and to neutralize German coastal defense batteries.

At 1:40AM, paratroopers from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment landed off course directly in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, located a few miles inland from Utah Beach. Some buildings in town were on fire that night, and they illuminated the sky, making easy targets of the descending men. Some were sucked into the fire. Many hanging from trees and utility poles were shot before they could cut loose. A well-known incident involved paratrooper John Steele whose parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and could only observe the fighting going on below. He hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. Steele later escaped from the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops attacked the village.

Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing at 6:30AM along a 50 mile stretch of the Normandy coast. The landings were divided into five sectors: Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach, with U.S. troops landing at Utah and Omaha Beach, British troops landing at Gold and Sword Beach, and Canadian troops landing at Juno Beach.

The heaviest casualties occurred on Omaha Beach as U.S. troops from the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division faced heavy machine gun and artillery fire from the cliffs overlooking the beach. Pointe du Hoc, located on the far western edge of Omaha Beach was assigned to 200 men of the 2nd U.S. Army Ranger Battalion. Their task was to scale the 100 foot cliffs with grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top.

The Omaha Beach landings were also the most heavily defended, with some 7,800 German soldiers waiting on the cliffs above with 85 machine gun sites, 8 artillery bunkers, 35 pillboxes, 6 mortar pits, 18 anti-tank guns, 45 rocket launcher sites, and 6 tank turrets . Many of the landing craft ran aground on sandbars and the men had to wade 50 to 100 yards in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach. Once they reached shore, they still had another 200 yards or more of open beach before making it to the cliffs. Tanks equipped with flotation devices were dropped into the sea 5,000 yards from shore, with most of them sinking in the rough seas before making it to shore.

I knew ahead of time that we would be camping for a few days at Omaha Beach as part of our D-Day Memorial Tour, and had planned to film myself early in the morning sitting on the beach looking around and thinking about the battle. I wanted to provide some introduction information for the war segment of our vacation video, but I did not plan for the emotions that I felt when standing on the very ground where thousands of soldiers lost their life. Being there in person is much different than seeing pictures and video. These were young boys, barely out of high school, most of whom had never before been in combat. Looking at their faces as they were about to get off their landing crafts makes you wonder just what was going through their minds. I’m sure many were thinking this was the day they would die.

This video contains combat footage of the D-Day invasion and ends with modern day video from Utah Beach, Sainte-Mère-Eglise, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Arromanches (Gold Beach), Juno Beach, the German Cemetery, and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

The War – Part 2: The 66th Infantry Division
Video 12 of 14 from Brad and Sue's France 2015 vacation.

From the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach, Lothar and I talk about our father’s experience during World War II. The video includes an interview with World War II Veteran Montelle J. Imsdahl, my father, who was with the 262nd Regiment, 66th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.

On December 24, 1944 (Christmas Eve), the 66th Infantry Division left the Southampton port and crossed the English Channel heading for France to serve as reinforcements during the Battle of the Bulge. Many of the troops were on the SS Leopoldville, a Belgian passenger ship converted into a troop transport. 2,500 troops from the 262nd and 264th regiments were on board. That ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat at around 6PM. The sinking of the Leopoldville was the second largest loss of life from a troopship disaster in the entire European war. 14 officers, including two battalion commanders and 784 enlisted men were dead or missing.

With their division severally depleted, the 66th Infantry Division went to the St. Nazaire and Lorient sectors on the west coast of France to relieve the 94th Infantry Division. The 94th was at full strength, so they went to the Battle of the Bulge while the 66th Infantry Division took their place containing two pockets of German resistance who were left far behind in the wake of the retreating German army after the D-Day invasion.

My father was in Company E of the 262nd regiment and most likely would have died in the sinking of the SS Leopoldville, had it not been for the fact that he was a jeep driver and on a different ship with his jeep when the SS Leopoldville was torpedoed. I can’t imagine what it was like to go through months of training with a group of men in your unit, then on the big night when you travel to France to face battle for the first time, you find out just about everyone else is dead.

After the war, my father received a book entitled: “40,000 Black Panthers of the 66th Division,” a history book of the division along with all of the names of the soldiers from the 66th who died during the war. My father placed an X next to all of the names of the soldiers he knew from Company E who lost their lives:

  • Leslie Abbott from Maple Rapids Michigan,
  • Peter Acri from Harrisburg Pennsylvania,
  • Burl Ailey from Dandridge Tennessee,
  • Donald Alvarado from Marion Indiana,
  • Robert Appleman from Cuyahoga Falls Ohio,
  • Modesto Ayala from Mc Allen Texas,
  • Donald Bader from Lakewood Ohio,
  • William Bailey from South Euclid Ohio,
  • Leonard Benda from St. Louis Missouri,
  • James Blue from Terre Haute Indiana,
  • Carl Bonde from Kalispell Montana,
  • Thomas Bowle from Delta Colorado,
  • Claude Bradley from Stuarts Draft Virginia,
  • Glen Buhler from Idaho,
  • Anthony Cacace from Brooklyn New York,
  • Carl Canon from Kansas City Missouri,
  • Jim Christian from Houston Texas,
  • Mervin Daugherty from Apollo Pennsylvania,
  • Louis DePiero from Dorchester Massachusetts,
  • Philip DeSilva from Lincoln Nebraska,
  • Joe Dominguez from Los Angeles California,
  • Arthur Godoy from Los Angeles California,
  • James Goodwin from Anniston Alabama,
  • Gordon Griffis from Esterville Iowa,
  • Glenn Henry from Sevierville Tennessee,
  • Robert Hoyt from Creston Iowa,
  • Dale Jensen from North Bend Nebraska,
  • James Jones from Conneaut Ohio,
  • Clifford Jump from Selma California,
  • Herbert Koehler from Yoakum Texas,
  • Marvin Kolb from Santa Fe New Mexico,
  • Anthony Lemos from Somerville Massachusetts,
  • George Lewandowski from Detroit Michigan,
  • Martin Lotz from Summerville South Carolina,
  • Sherman Marriott from Stover Missouri,
  • Richard Mathews from Los Molinos California,
  • Everette McDaniel from Long Lane Missouri,
  • Harry McKain from Terre Haute Indiana,
  • Daniel MsKenzie from Moyers Oklahoma,
  • Joseph McKinney from Maryland,
  • F. Morehouse from Jerome Michigan,
  • James Morgan from Heidelberg Mississippi,
  • James Mortimer from Winona Mississippi,
  • Samuel Murray from Fresno California,
  • Carl Nelson from San Francisco California,
  • Clifford Newbraugh from Berkley Springs West Virginia,
  • Sam Noto from Bryan Texas,
  • Joaquin Perea from El Paso Texas,
  • Billie Ragle from Aledo Texas,
  • James Ransom from Dallas Texas,
  • Marzell Roberts from Empire Alabama,
  • Robert Rogers from Roanoke Rapids North Carolina,
  • David Rust from Monroe Washington,
  • Walter Sheridan from Indianapolis Indiana,
  • Donald Smith from Aberdeen South Dakota,
  • Marion Spychalski from Bay City Michigan,
  • Jay Taylor from Elizabeth Pennsylvania,
  • Hoyt Travis from Madisonville Kentucky,
  • Richard Vester from North Branch New Jersey,
  • Paul Viets from Thomaston Connecticut,
  • Jack Watts from Wheelersburg Ohio,
  • Irvin Weaver from Dayton Ohio,
  • Marion Westbrook from Alton Illinois,
  • Cecil Wilson from Versailles Missouri,
  • Frank Wyatt from Moxee Washington,
  • Fred Young from Doyle California, and
  • George Young from Nassau New York.
  • None of these men came back to tell their sons about what happened during the war, like my father was able to do. Most of these men, still in their teens, are likely remembered today as some distant relative who died in a war a long time ago.

    I'm not sure why my father felt the need to place an X next to their name in his book. Perhaps it was his way of paying his last respects to the men he knew who never came home from the war.


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