We're not a group to decline a brief "turn about the grounds"... So we took a few minutes and explored this beautiful French property. We discovered that it had massive stables (which are being renovated into a B&B room), a private and incredibly beautiful family chapel as well as an orangery that came straight out of my dreams. Currently, a Countess, who fluently speaks 6 languages, lives here and is a friend of our tour guide. She is as lovely as you'd imagine her to be.
It was several days later when Anna & I had just completed our tour of the Utah Beach museum and I was in search of some coffee, that we started down the sidewalk towards the best (okay, only) restaurant on Utah. There was a crowd of people gathered around a very animated old veteran. We were curious to see what what going on and heard the name Jack Schlegel mentioned. We both looked at each other with wide eyes and rushed over to a gentleman who appeared to know what was going on and said "Who is that?!?"
"It's Jack Schlegel!"
I forgot all about my coffee and leaned in to hear what he had to say. He was the kindest man, laughing and joking and reveling in the joy of being a celebrity for a few days. He talked about being a paratrooper at the age of 19 and what that was like. Then he saw Anna & I (it must have been our pretty faces! haha!) he asked if we wanted his autograph. Of course we did! He signed our papers and looked at us with tears in his eye and said "You know, I go to a lot of schools and I talk to kids about the war and what I did. They always ask me "how many people did you kill?" and they're excited about it. And it makes me sad, because killing is no fun. Dropping a bomb is one thing, but when you have to look a man in the eye and shoot him, it just takes something out of you. War is not fun, we did what we had to do."
As I was doing some last minute fact-checking for this blog post, I googled his name and the first thing that came up was an obituary from Woodstock, NY. Jack died only a week after we met him on the beach in Normandy. My heart just sank and I remembered what my Mimi says every time someone of note passes away. "A library has been burned". The very reason this trip meant so much to me was because I knew that most of these precious men would never come back, but knowing his story and meeting the the man behind it, shaking his hand, thanking him. It gives such a personal connection to what happened at DDay. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to say hello and that he took the time to tell his story.
You can learn more about Jack Schlegel here:
NBC News - War Hero Dies Days After Celebrating DDay Anniversary - link to video