Friday, August 31, 2012

Bienvenue to you

FRIDAY, 8/31:

I’ve discovered that I can now drive from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris all the way to Bayeux without ever once looking at a map or using GPS.  I guess everyone needs a skill in their life, right?  And now I have mine.

Needless to say, we made it here okay.  As with any international trip it wasn’t without its hassles and lack of sleep (8 hours total since I woke up Wednesday morning in Marquette, I believe), but aside from spending half an hour in a seemingly endless line to get through passport control in Paris (and then not even getting our passports stamped!) and waiting almost an hour in the world’s slowest ever car rental line, things went disaster free. Well, there was the German truck driver who tried to cut across three lanes of traffic without looking and almost caused four other cars—ours included—to end up pretzeled together, but other than that it was disaster free. 

Speaking of Germans, not only is there a German tour group staying at out hotel tonight, but when we spent the day yesterday playing in the sun in downtown Chicago, trying to kill 8 hours between flights, we were in a Treasure Island grocery store and were talking about German chocolates when a man came by.  He didn’t say anything, but when we ran into him a few minutes later he asked us—in German--if we were from Germany.  Now while both Loraine and I have German blood in us—in her case, almost 100%--we had to disappoint him.  Guess we must just have that air about us, or something.

Anyway, we made it to Bayeux mid-afternoon today, and after checking in at our home away from home—the Bayeux Novotel—we beelined down the Rue St, Patrice—

And made a stop at the A la Reine Mathilde Patisserie for a Feuilletine Noir, something we’ve been dreaming about for the 22 months since we were last here—

I don’t know how to describe these, except to maybe say that if dark chocolate, crunchy bits, a creamy filling, and one of the best tastes ever to grace the planet had a love child, it would be a Feuillitine.  And I’m thinking it’s a good thing we don’t live in Bayeux; if we did, we’d be eating these every day and weighing about a hundred pounds more than each of us do now.  Of course, for a Feuillitine, it might be worth it!

We were also shocked to learn that our favorite Bayeux grocery store has undergone a massive change.  They tore down the old and somewhat rustic Super U, and replaced it on the same spot with a new modern U Express—

The best part about it?  They’ve expanded their chocolate section.  It’s like they knew we were coming over this month, and worked hard to make sure we’d be happy.  And I think we are!

Because we didn’t do too much other stuff today, I didn’t get a chance to take pictures of any animals, flowers, strange artwork, or even stranger people.  I will leave you with two images, though, the first of which is how each and every pizza place in Bayeux delivers—

And the second of which is the one place other than a grocery store we visited today.  That’s the Memorial Des Reporters, which is a memorial that’s been put up to honor reporters and photographers killed in war zones—

Why is Bayeux home to the memorial, you ask?  Well, I answer, every year they hold an international conference on the subject of war reporting, so I guess it’s just natural.  Every year that add to the list of names, and 2011’s had way too many on them, including Tim Hetherington and Chris Honoros, a reporter and photographer team who worked for everyone from the A.P. and Vanity Fair, and who were killed together last year covering the civil war in Libya.

That’s today; tomorrow, the “vacation” continues with a drive to the west of here, a visit to a cemetery, a climb up a hill, and our third search for a town that doesn’t exist.  Except it does, at least according to both maps and legend.  More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One of the Reasons We Keep Going Back

Had he lived, he would’ve been 92 years old. 

Arthur W. Lemieux was born in Marquette on April 20th, 1920, to Arthur E. and Jessie Lemieux.  He was the second of five children; his dad worked at and later owned the old Marquette Steam Laundry, which sat where the parking lot next to where the former Delft Theater is now located.  He went to (but didn’t graduate from) Graveraet High School, and worked as (among other things) a taxi driver until World War II, when he joined the 82nd Airborne.  As part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, he made the jump into France the night before the D-Day landings, helping to secure the town of Ste. Mere Eglise.  Three days later, June 9th, he was trying to cross a field near that town when he was shot & killed by a German machine gunner.  He was temporarily buried in Ste. Mere Eglise, and his body was brought back to the U.S. in 1949, where he was laid to rest in Park Cemetery.

And that’s where his story ended, at least for the next half century.

Now flash forward to the summer of 2000.  A young couple decides to spend a nice afternoon walking through Park Cemetery, and having seen “Saving Private Ryan” several times, the female half of the couple looks around to see if she can find the headstones of anyone who died in World War II.  The first grave she finds is that of Arthur W. Lemieux.  She does a little research into his story, which has been lying untold for those 50 years, and that starts her on an epic project that, 12 years later, is still an ongoing effort.

You can guess who the young couple was, right?

Arthur W. Lemieux will always have a soft spot in Loraine’s heart; after all, you don’t easily forget someone who changed your life like that.  Because of him, she’s spent the last decade (and change) researching not only his story but those of 243 other men & women from Marquette and Alger County who died during the conflict.  And because of him, we’ve spent a lot of time in France, traipsing around dirt roads and farm fields, retracing the steps of his final days.  Thanks to some very helpful people (especially his squad leader, the very knowledgeable Spencer Wurst), we know what happened to him on his final day.  We know the squad left Ste. Mere Eglise with orders to take the Montebourg railway station.  They walked past the village of Fresville, and down this dirt road--

Once down the road, they rounded a corner, came upon a stone quarry, and then attempted to cross this farm field--

What they didn’t know was that there was a German machine gun nest nearby with a perfect view of the field.  Spencer Wurst tried to cross the field first, and was pinned down by gunfire.  Lemieux and a Massachusetts native named Eli Potty tried to attack the machine gun nest, but died in the attempt. 

And you know the rest of the story.

I can’t fathom what the past decade and change would’ve been like had we not come across Lemieux’s grave that summer day.  We’ve met so many wonderful people, and have gone so many wonderful places, that we felt this pre-trip blog was the least we could do for him.  But we also have an ulterior motive for doing it, as well.  Lemieux’s parents and siblings are all dead; his parents and brother died in the 1950s, in fact.  So while Loraine knows a lot about his final three days on this planet, she doesn’t know a lot about the 23 years that preceded it.  She’s been able to gather a few facts from newspapers, but has never been able to get any first-hand accounts of his life before the war.

That’s where this blog comes in.

Almost every single time I’ve written about one of her “guys”, we’ve received an e-mail, often months later, from someone doing a Google search on a long-lost relative or old family friend.  Their search turned up that long-lost relative or old family friend’s name in the blog that I wrote, which resulted in them e-mailing me, me forwarding the e-mail to Loraine, and Loraine then making new friends for life.  It’s happened many times before, and we’re hoping that, sometime in the future, it happens again for Arthur W. Lemieux.

After all, for someone who’s changed our lives so much in the past decade, it’s the least we can do.