A Hoosier Abroad
Seventy years later, World War II can elicit strong emotions
|About Steve Key|
|Steve Key is Executive Director and General Counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association and a former daily newspaper editor. He is currently in Europe following in the footsteps of World War II correspondents, such as Ernie Pyle, through a tour offered by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in Dana, Indiana. The tour, which runs from Sept. 25 to Oct. 3, will hit several locations in France and Germany. The locations include Omaha and Utah beaches on the Normandy coast where Ernie wrote of the human debris left behind from the historic Allied landing; and the Paris bar "liberated" by Ernest Hemingway. Steve has agreed to send some of his observations to our newspaper.|
Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director and General Counsel
This was my takeaway from the first group dinner for the 40+ participants of the National World War II Museum's tour: "Writing the War - Following the Footsteps of WWII Correspondents."
Dining on Sea bream and a filet in Chateau Sully, conversation at my table revealed most had a parent who was involved. My traveling partner, Mike Bush, told of his father who fought in the infantry in Attu, Alaska, then transferred into the 101st Airborne - just in time to be trucked into Bastogne, which was encircled by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge during the dead of winter.
Phil Satre of Reno, Nev., was reading on the bus to Bayeux his father's artillery unit's service history, while his wife, Jennifer, over breakfast told me her mother was in the Red Cross in England helping the B17 Flying Fortress crews remember home between bombing missions.
Michael Harmon of Santa Rosa, Calif.'s father was in B24 Liberators and spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war and Michael Bylen of a Farmington Hills, Mich., recounted how his father, who was in the Signal Corps, participated in five amphibious invasions from North Africa, to Sicily, to two landings in Italy, before southern France.
I'm only guessing, but I think this trip may help them connect to that parent, particularly the combat veterans who universally were reluctant to share any details about the fighting. Belen said as a 13-year-old he pressed his father on details and his father told him, "If you want to know so much about combat, join the army."
Mike Bush's voice choked with emotion recalling a connection made in a Billings, Mont., hospital with a veteran whose tank unit helped break the siege at Bastogne where his father was trapped.
Those around the table recalled stories fathers told about training, leave in Paris or others places they saw, but not about the waging of war. The conversation reinforced my belief in the importance of the battlefield reporting of the correspondents, such as a Ernie Pyle.
Those on home front in the 40s could follow pins on a map to note the progress of armies and where battles were fought, but it was Pyle who told them what was happening to loved ones through the individual stories of specific soldiers. When he wrote about the dog-tired infantry filing down one hill and up the next, anyone with a relative fighting in North Africa could picture that husband, father, son or uncle in that line.
Pyle didn't make combat heroic. He stated the G.I.'S point of view, it was a war they didn't ask for, but a job that had to be done. In their minds, the heroes were the ones who died. It still strikes me that Pyle's connection between soldier and family at home was so strong, that it was President Harry Truman who announced his death to the country, killed by a bullet from a Japanese machine gun on tiny Ie Shima in the Pacific Ocean.
Interested in journalism since my days working on my high school newspaper, The Howe Tower, I'm looking forward to the presentation tomorrow by historian Donald Miller before we visit the Utah and Omaha beaches where the Americans landed. Think about the opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan" when you try to conjure a vision of Omaha beach on D-Day.
But first some time spent in a setting that seems a world apart from World War II. We stay tonight in Chateau La Cheneviere - a place in the 17th century where hemp was cultivated. The hemp was used to make both rope and the clothing for English Channel fisherman
The Gosser family built the beautiful yellow stone home, which is now a hotel and restaurant. Walls enclose the home, stables now converted into guest rooms, and gardens. A Sequoia stands majestically near the Chateau, much to our surprise. The red, onion-shaped pumpkins in the garden were another surprise as we explored the grounds. The serene setting appears far removed from a World War, but that isn't the case.
A German officer made the Chateau his headquarters and installed a communications station on the grounds. A plaque memorializes Armand Lapierre who on June 4, 1944, took part in the "Grand Coupure," designed to destroy German communications lines around la Cheneviere before the Allied landing.
The Chateau, like its guests, carry a connection to the war not necessarily evident on the surface.
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