We stayed in the farmhouse cottage of a chateau in Flottemanville. Our first morning, over a breakfast of chocolate croissants, the owners dropped off a book at our table and pointed out a chapter that referenced his wife's father. We politely nodded and glanced at the words, hoping they were in English and not in French. They were, and they spelled out one of the most unbelievable stories I have ever read.
Her father's name was Michel de Vallavieille , he was 24 on DDay. He was staying with friends not too far away at a home called Brecourt Manor when the invasion happened. Major Dick Winters and his easy company approached the house and Michel came out waving a white handkerchief trying to tell them that the Germans have left and there are only Frenchmen inside. Seeing only movement and in the anxiety of war, our GI's shot him 5 times. It must have been a frantic few minutes while Michel's family tried to communicate that he was indeed a friend and wounded badly. Michel was taken to Utah Beach, patched up and flown to London where he would recover in a hospital for the next nine months. His family held onto the hope that he was still alive, but for all they knew he had died on his way to the field hospital.
|These papers were dropped by airplane to warn the French the invasion was coming|
When he finally came home, the Normandy region was a mess. Houses were no longer standing, hedgerows were blown through and huge bomb craters remained. Michel was grateful to be alive, but no longer able to farm or do physical labor. Here was a man who's entire future was altered.
And here is the incredible part of the story...
Michel de Vallavieille was grateful, from the bottom of his heart, for the Americans and their sacrifice as they came to liberate his people. He dedicated the rest of his life to preserving the memory of DDay and the men who fought in France. He never let bitterness get in the way of moving forward, he got married, raised children and became the beloved mayor of a small village for over 40 years.
His life blood was the Utah Beach Museum. This is one of my top five museums to see in the world (you know my love of a good museum!). You have to go if you are ever in France. It is absolutely world-class and has in its possession, a heart, which many museums today are lacking. The displays were well designed, high tech, and I found new stories that gave an even broader perspective on WW2. I also cried.
When you see a newspaper article about precious teenage girl who lived through this terror of war and she says "we can only get dark bread, there's no white flour, but that's okay, freedom is better than bread." I dare you to not to get a lump in your throat. It reminded me of how often I take my freedoms for granted and how important it is to be grateful.
One of my favorite things about visiting Normandy is seeing our American flag hung everywhere. The people of France fly it alongside their own flag as a symbol of their thanks. I'm always surprised. Don't you think that after 70 years they would have forgotten us? No, the answer is no. They have not forgotten, they are a culture that remembers and honors the past. Our tour guide said that people often ask if the flags are just a touristy thing, just to make us feel good about coming and spending money, he said "these flags fly year around, we cannot thank you enough".
And I cannot thank them enough. These brave soldier boys who came to France, to fight the very forces of evil, and who died violent deaths on these beaches. They died for generations of Americans that they would never know. We are grateful.