It haunts me …
Entering the small village of Sainte-Mère-Église just inland from the beaches of Normandie, we come across this bronze sculpture. Upon first seeing it, and in the days and weeks following, I came to see it as if I were one of those it represents – a captive in that small French village.
- We see the gnarled and tortured hands reaching towards the falling parachute – the chains are falling off the reaching hands – the cliffs and the ladder where the US Army Rangers scaled from the rocky beach below – the rusty defunct machine gun – the church and the hanging paratrooper.
- And we see the flame of liberty flowing from the base of the falling parachute.
Such were the conditions on 6 June 1944 and the days to follow.
A great evil had captured the land … and once more I am reminded of the words of Ronald Reagan.
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
I will return later for more remembrances of such scenes of 1944 …
My first and most prominent impression of France after spending 5 weeks in Paris, including two trips to Normandie, was one of history and remembrance of that history.
And this remembrance goes back many years — to this statue of Julius Caesar. Caesar invaded and conquered what is now France and added this territory to the Roman Empire. Rome was a brutal empire, and most likely many of the defeated in this conquest were made slaves. And yet, here is this statue of a Roman general, soon to be Emperor/dictator in a prominent place in a garden just outside the old Royal Palace, now the Louvre, a world famous museum.
Very early in our stay in Paris, I began to see the many monuments and remembrances of the long standing relationship between France and America.
This monument and rue (street) honoring Benjamin Franklin is a short walk from our apartment. Also in this area is a plaque honoring the French soldiers killed while fighting at the battle of Yorktown, the final battle of the American Revolution.
Further on we see this large statue of General George Washington, placed on Avenue President Wilson.
And along the River Seine, we find Avenue President Kennedy and Avenue New York. We also saw this scene while on the river.
And at the foot of one of the many bridges we find this statue of Thomas Jefferson.
And here’s George Washington with Marquis_de_Lafayette Lafayette, , an important French ally —
A place that was bristling with French history is the Pantheon. As you can see from these few pictures below, it is a place that displays history in the form of large paintings and statuary, including the French Revolution which was quite brutal and savage. I wish I could have understood the French language so as to more fully appreciate what was being said.
Returning to the modern times of World War II, we see many memorials of a different sort — not the elegant buildings, paintings and statuary, but nonetheless, gripping in their impact.
The small village of Sainte-Mère-Église was the first village liberated by the allied invasion of Normandy. It is here you find these memorials —
On the road to this village I looked up at the wall of a very old building and saw three small, old and tattered flags: French British and American — not in a prominent place, but an important place of remembrance for some French citizens who remember with gratitude.
The welling up of emotion continues here with this small town which was the first liberated following the Normandy landings. The emotions are those of pride … pride of those that came before me and who sacrificed so much for the cause of liberty, and the rejection of those forces that would snuff it out.
The sculpture below is what we saw as we entered the town square of this small French town so close to the liberating armies landing beaches. Looking closely we can see profound symbolism — the parachute descending from above … two hands reaching up to that parachute … broken chains falling away from the hands … the church … and a defunct and obsolete symbol of war – the machine gun. And at the base we see the cliffs which US Army Rangers scaled in order to silence the German heavy artillery positioned to shell the landing beaches and the ships offshore. Note also the rope ladder those Rangers used to scale the cliffs.
Then there is the small ‘ghost’ town of Oradour-sur-Glane where Nazi soldiers murdered 642 civilians including 205 children. The men were separated out and sent to barns where they were executed. The women and children were locked in a church which was then burned down. This ‘ghost’ town has been left as it was after the atrocities committed there in 1944 — a remembrance of a great evil.
In conclusion, I would advise America to be wise and careful in our season of unrest and the many attempts to cleanse American history from anything and anyone that might offend. Can we learn from the French?
See more of my remembrances of Normandie at: https://travelswithdonanddianaparis2017.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/normandie/ as well as other places we visited in Paris.