Saturday, January 3, 2015

WWII Road Trip: La Fiere, France

Actual date of this event: 12 July, 2014

Debbie has asked me to write this “guest” blog due to the nature of the content and its relation to my family.  I've been busy, but finally got around to it.  Sorry about the delay – Luke B

We left Utah Beach and headed towards our next destination: a tiny stone bridge across Le Merderet, which is a small river (or more like a large stream) in the middle of open farmland a couple of miles outside of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

Amazingly, in 1944, this tiny bridge across an otherwise insignificant stream would hold great significance to the future of the success of the Allied Invasion, and thus to the future of the world. 

It would also hold even more significance to a family thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean in southern Louisiana.   

An otherwise unremarkable stone bridge, la pont de la Fiere is one of the (thankfully) only direct, physical connections between my immediate family and the world-altering event that was World War II, and (more specifically) the D-Day landings.  The significance is that my grandmother’s first husband, after parachuting into Normandy behind enemy lines on the very early morning of June 6th, 1944 (think “Band of Brothers”), was killed holding it to keep it out of Nazi hands.  He was Major Frederick C. A. Kellam , 1/505th, 82nd Airborne (KIA June 6, 1944), and he was only one of the hundreds of brave Americans who were killed defending this bridge, and to whom a park & memorials is now dedicated just adjacent to it.
{Pont de la Fiere across Le Merderet, with Parc Memorial de la Fiere in background}

{"Iron Mike" paratrooper monument}
Fred wasn’t my grandfather, but he was the father of my mom’s half-brother Michael.  Additionally, his death occurred over a decade before my mother was born, and so my mom’s connection to Fred was through Michael & her mother (my grandmother).  For these reasons, I never knew much about Fred other than the fact that he was part of my grandmother’s life from before she met my grandfather, he was a respected leader during the D-Day landings, he was killed on D-Day defending a bridge, and that he was memorialized in a stained glass window in the church we attended back in southern Louisiana growing up (which, coincidentally, has a long-standing connection to the French due to the Acadian/Cajun heritage).
After only recently becoming interested in World War II following a visit to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana (which I would HIGHLY recommend by the way…one of the best history museums I've ever been to) about 3 years ago, I became more interested in Fred’s story.  Then, after having the opportunity to live in Europe and thus have something like the landing beaches at Normandy easily accessible, I felt like I’d be remiss to not visit this area on behalf of my extended family.  This was my opportunity to learn more.   Thankfully, there was a load of great info available at the park on various info boards & memorials.

Even though Fred isn't my blood relative and I don’t have a personal, direct connection to him or to this bridge, being there was a surreal experience for me.   As we travel throughout Europe, there are thousands of years of history that have influenced the differences in the different places, cultures, buildings, languages, etc.  However, every little nuance to do with the way Europe is, and to the way different parts of Europe are today, can be traced directly back to the events & results of WWII…only about 70 years ago.  It was easily one of the most (if not THE most) significant events in recent human history, and this was my closest meaningful personal connection to it.  I felt extremely humbled and thankful for the state of the Western world that I've had the opportunity to live in for my entire life, and it was surreal that it was partially all a result of bravery on a tiny bridge in the middle of a field in France 70 years ago…

{view from the park towards the bridge}
I know that some of Fred’s living relatives have an interest in WWII, and specifically in D-Day and in the circumstances that led to their loss of a family member.  However, I don’t know if they've ever had the opportunity to visit Normandy and/or this specific location.  I don’t know if they’d want to or not.  Either way, in visiting this place, I hoped I was doing something meaningful for an indirect relative & his family who did so much more for me, my family, my country, & my life.
Please Note: If anyone related to Fred or who knows much more about the history of Bataille de la Fiere and the circumstances of Fred’s actions on D-Day reads this, I apologize for any inaccuracies in the historical bits related to the circumstances of his death.  I’m trying to learn more of the details, so this simply reflects my understanding thus far.

Other Normandy posts: Caenthe Landing BeachesLa FiereFrench Cathedrals

A similar statue to the "Iron Mike" can be found in Fort Bragg, USA, where the 82nd Airborne Division was, and still is, based.
Ceremonies and demonstration jumps take place in La Fiere on June 6 every year.

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