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Posts tagged ‘WWII’

No. 274: Oradour-sur-Glane

It has been a week of somber remembrances in France marking various events of WWII.

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the massacre of 642 men, women and children in the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane. While this may seem like another odd post, and certainly not something I “love” about France, it is something I think is important to know about France, and an event to be remembered and marked.

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On our way to Bordeaux in April, we stop for the afternoon in this perfectly preserved and moving village-memorial to the horrors borne by French civilians during the Nazi occupation. It is a difficult site to visit, but I am grateful that we did, and grateful to the local government for leaving the village exactly as it died on June 10, 1944.

During the war, Oradour-sur-Glane was an unimportant and peaceful town located close to Limoges, not too far from Dordogne. Like many small hamlets in France, its residents were struggling to get by during the occupation, but there is no clear record of any Resistance activity in the village, although a captured SS officer may have been briefly held there prior to the massacre. But on the morning of June 10, just four days after the D-day landings, the towns’ passive status could not save them from the wrath of the Nazis.

Early in the day, a group of SS soldiers entered the village and rounded up all the residents on the pretext that they wanted to check their identity papers and search their houses for weapons. They moved the men to nearby barns and herded the women and children into the village church, suggesting that they sing as they marched.

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What followed was the methodical and evil extermination of an entire town within hours. Below is a text chronicling this horrific war crime:

“A large gas bomb, seemingly made out of smoke-screen grenades and intended to asphyxiate the occupants, was placed in the church, but it did not work properly when it went off and so the SS had to use machine guns and hand grenades to disable and kill the women and children. After they had subdued all the occupants of the church, the soldiers piled wood on the bodies, many of which were still alive and set it on fire.

At the same time that the gas bomb exploded in the church, the SS fired their machine guns into the men crowded in the barns. They deliberately fired low, so that many of the men were badly wounded but not killed. The soldiers then piled wood and straw on the bodies and set it alight, many of the men thus burned to death, unable to move because of their injuries. Six men did manage to escape from Madame Laudy’s barn, but one of them was seen and shot dead, the other 5 all wounded, got away under cover of darkness.

Whilst these killings were taking place, the soldiers searched the village for any people who had evaded the initial roundup and killed them where they found them. One old invalid man was burned to death in his bed and a baby was baked to death in the local bakery ovens, other people were killed and their bodies thrown down a well. People who attempted to enter the village to see what was going on were shot dead. A local tram, which arrived during the killings, was emptied of passengers, who after several terrifying minutes were let go in peace.

After killing all the villagers that they could find, the soldiers set the whole village on fire and early the next day, laden with booty stolen from the houses, they left.” (source: www.oradour.info)

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Souviens-toi: Remember

No. 271-272: Normandie—A Soldier’s Letter Home & Giving Thanks

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November 1944, France

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. We had the turkey and all the trimmings. Most of the doughboys had turkey also. It’s amazing when you think of all of us, so far from home, observing still in the midst of a battlefield, Thanksgiving. I’m sure there was many who gave thanks to God today. I was sure one of them.I recently was able to see some of the dead boys they had just taken off the battlefield. If some of the men back home, whom of personal ambition attempt to prolong the war, could see them–I’m sure the war would soon end. When you look at them you can’t help but think–why are they dead! Just a year or so ago they were either going to school-working-married, and now they’re dead. Many among them had ambition–all looked forward to the future–Now they’re dead. It keeps shooting thru your mind-again and again-why have these men died? I know why we fight-I know of the values we’re trying to secure. I hope these men have not given their lives for empty words. I’m sorry I went up on slight a philosophical side. But I had to air out some of my thoughts.

Love, Harold

Ryan-Hill-uniform-tallNovember 2006, Iraq

i try not to cry. i have never cried this much my entire life two great men got taken from us way too soon.i wonder why it was them in not me. i sit here right now wondering why did they go to the gates of heaven n not me? i try every night count my blessing that i made it another day but why are we in this hell over here? why? i cant stop askin why? the more i think the more i cry.why? i try n figure out the reasons that people die n i still don’t know why. all i can do is live my life to the fullest but i still don’t know why.

(From the journal of Pfc. Ryan J. Hill, 20, who was riding in a Humvee on Jan. 20, 2007, when an IED buried in the middle of the road detonated under his seat, killing him instantly.)

 

 Thanks little brother for everything you have sacrificed.

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No. 270: Normandie—D-day Beaches

“At the edge of the cliffs, the wind is a smack, and D-day becomes wildly clear: climbing that cutting edge into the bullets.”

— John Vinoc

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The D-Day beaches in Normandie are a study in contrasts. They are flat-out gorgeous—expansive ginger seaside bound by sheer rocky cliffs, burnt-orange and dripping with green. And beyond the shore, a gem-like sapphire sea too blue to be real, dares us to dip our toes, splash about and maybe even go under. I wasn’t expecting real beaches with colorfully clad beachgoers, sand buckets, and picnics. I had anticipated a more museum-like feel or roped off memorial.

Yet among the vacationers, there is a quiet reverence and consciousness amid the many reminders of the thousands of men who stormed the beaches at the crack of dawn on June 6, 1944. In fact the entire coastline, while still a sunshine playground, pays tribute to the British, American, and Canadian armies who laid down their lives to liberate France and occupied Europe.

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Never have I felt so close to a moment in history.

To walk the shoreline and climb the cliffs and watch the waves crash towards Winston Churchill’s brilliant artificial harbor, you can almost see the ghosts of Robert Capa’s black and white photographs slugging through the tempest tides, gunned down or drown in the first minutes of the longest day. You certainly can feel their presence.

Overcome with pride and immense sadness and sheer wonder at how the lucky ones physically and mentally survived. Time and again you are reminded of the doughboys and the thousands of wide-eyed journeys they made from the cities and small towns of America, Britain, and Canada to the violent beaches of Normandy, France, to help a country and people they had never seen and to whom they had little tangible connection.

Yet still they came, willingly and righteously, and offered up their lives.

It is nothing short of astounding.