Sunday, May 14, 2006

“Thank God for the Americans…”



This photograph is of two American Veterans of WW2 who landed in France on ‘Omaha Beach’ Normandy in June 1944, a few days after ’D-Day’ when they were both 19 years old. It was taken inside the central exhibition area of the Memorial Museum for Peace in July 1944. They had returned to Normandy for the 60th Anniversary commemorations of the Normandy Landings.

On the left is Mr Abel Nazarette from El Paso, Texas and on the right is Mr Patrick Brennan from New York City (American 60th Combat Engineers, attached to the American 35th Infantry Division). The motif on the baseball caps they are wearing, and the patch worn by Abel, is that of the 35th Infantry Division. This motif, a blue circle with a vertical white cross was based on markers used along the legendary ‘Santa Fé Trail’.

[Photograph by Joseph Ritson]

(For further information about this photograph see below)

8 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Introduction

This additional information has been based partly on my research notes and partly on a presentation I gave in French about the Second World War in July 2004. I hope that it may be of interest for others to read a little about the experiences of two American WW2 Veterans I had the honour to meet. They were part of a larger group of American Veterans and their families visiting Normandy, where many of their comrades in arms had died during World War Two.

As I was helping out as a volunteer story gatherer for the “People’s War” project on behalf of my local BBC radio station during 2005 I was unable to write up all the notes I have in my files about WW2. This is one of those accounts that might have made an interesting addition to the site had there been additional time.

Background to the photograph and story

In the summer of 2004 I signed up for a short ‘refresher’ course in the French language based at the University in Caen. As part of this course, I had to produce two written pieces of work and an oral presentation based on original research about different aspects of French life and culture obtained during my stay. Having previously learnt about WW2 in Caen, and with 2004 coincidentally being the 60th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings I decided I would interview a number of different people about their views of the Second World War. These interviews would be the source material for my oral presentation.

I felt the best location to ask people about the Second World War was the Caen Memorial Museum for Peace, which is the largest and most visited World War Two site in the area. Although most of the interviews were conducted in French, I also did some of them in English and German, depending on which country the visitor was from. Incidentally, those answers I used for my presentation that had been from an Anglophone or Germanophone had obviously to be translated into French!

Among those I had the privilege to talk to (in English!) were two Americans who had landed at Omaha Beach a few days after D-Day. They had previously revisited Normandy a few years earlier fro the 50th Anniversary commemorations and in 2004 had returned with fellow Comrades, family and friends of the 35th American Infantry Division for the 60th Anniversary. As well as visiting the Caen Memorial Museum for Peace their group were also visiting the Landing Beaches, the American Cemetery at Colleville and some of the major battle sites of the Battle of Normandy.

The Battle for St Lô

The first main assault for the 35th Infantry Division (part of General Charles Corlett’s US XIX Corps) was an attack on St Lô. The 35th Infantry Division made a joint attack on St Lô with the 29th Infantry Division, one of the Divisions that had been among the first troops to land on ‘Omaha Beach’ on the morning of 6 June 1944. The St Lô offensive began on 11 July 1944, and, after being joined by troops of the 116th Infantry Division, the Americans finally entered the city after a week’s costly fighting.

One story I had previously heard about the American liberation of St Lô concerned Major Thomas Howie the C.O of 3/116th Infantry Division. Having promised to reach St Lô, the Americans he was then killed in action the day before its liberation on 17 July. After St Lô had been liberated, his men draped his body in the American flag, placed it on a jeep and drove into the city. Major Howie’s body, still draped in the ‘Stars and Stripes’, and placed on the steps of the Eglise St Croix, by now in ruins, so that all who passed that way could pay silent homage to this highly respected commander.

Conclusion

Although I only spoke with Abel and Patrick for a short time, they told me they had received a tremendously enthusiastic welcome wherever they had been. One French lady had said them “Thank God for the Americans, the British and the Canadians”. Arguably, in all of the theatres of World War Two, without the help of the Americans, their logistics and their manpower, it would have been much harder for the Allies to have won. As we parted, I told Abel and Patrick that the French lady had been right: “Thank God for the Americans

Sunday, 14 May, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Joseph, Firstly I apologise for calling you Ritson, put it down to age.
Secondly I for one and most of the people I knew then, agreed whole heartedly, "Thank God for the Americans" it would have been a different world today if they had stayed out of the war.
I do not think we could ever have invaded Europe on our own so the Russians would have continued their advance possibly up to the coast of the Channel.
All guess work of course though once they started to roll I do not think the Germans could have stopped them.
Much of the material we used in the Army up to 1960 was American and even after that we used White Half Tracks for Foward Repair Teams, we had added lifting gear and a trailer for parts but they were the same vehicles.
Silk stockings and Spam I once heard some one say when asked what the Americans did for us in the war. They obviously were not around when a couple of million Yanks were weighing this little island down. Who else in the world were capable of producing war material so quickly and in such large amounts.
The Liberty ship program alone was mind blowing, it certainly filled a large gap when needed.
We remember and thank them, I am afraid that over the years the "Over paid Over sexed and Over here" label has dimmed peoples perception of just what it meant to us.
I say again "Thank God for the Americans" and God bless them all.

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

There is no question that without the massive input of the American Industry and manpower, we would have had great difficulty in surviving WW2,many of us however, saw a different side to the American character with his almost constant cry that all things American were the greatest.
WE recall Kasserine - Gabes - Bizerta - Catania - Palermo Salerno - Cassino - Anzio - Florence et al and that was just the Mediterranian campaigns.

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Sure Tom, green troops with a few weeks training by instructers who had never seen war but too many cowboy pictures where they always won.
Those American troops who crossed the marsh and the river at Cassino,
the 101 at the bulge and the troops who cut the Cherbourge peninsular fought hard and well. We all had to learn Tom.
I remember having trouble with our lads some given six weeks basic then sent out to the Middle East, they had to learn fast too.
The American in the Pacific war zone had a cruel learning curve and I think they did one hell of a job.
Be fair Tom, they had some lousy Generals but they overcome even that millstone.

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -

Always try to be fair as I acknowledged in my opening sentence - sure they had too many lousy Generals - Colonels - WO1's even - and sure they overcame those many handicaps but the facts still remain that they did not like to participate in action and avoided it as often as possible - with invariably - dire consequences for anyone close.
The other facts are that their number of killed were the lowest of any major power involved even with the short time they were involved.

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Frank,

Don't worry about using the name 'Ritson'. My Uncle Ronald, who served in the RAMC in WW2, was always called 'Ritson' by his CO Major Hargreaves (to whom he was batman).

After they came out of the Army, Dr Hargreaves still called my Uncle 'Ritson'. Uncle Ronald referred to Major Hargreaves as "Dr Hargreaves" although by then they were more friends than officer and batman.

On the other hand, after the war other members of the Ritson family, such as my aunt, cousins etc were known by Dr Hargreaves by their first names. Although both Dr Hargreaves and my uncle have both now passed away, I am still in touch with a daughter of Dr Hargreaves, who will refer to me as 'Joseph' and refer to my my Uncle Ronald as 'Ritson'. I sometimes also get 'Jos' or 'Joe' by others

Perhaps the use of surnames, first names or even nicknames was another peculiarity of those far off wartime days? Although, when I was at Grammar School some of the male teachers who I think had been in the Army used surnames for boys and first names for girls!

Regarding the Americans, there were obviously some minor conflicts and misunderstandings between Allies, but they did help with men and materials and in other ways. I asked one fellow I know who was in Italy with the 8th Army if he'd been to Rome in WW2 and he's told me they couldn't get in for the Yanks! This might sound familiar to someone else who might read this I feel!

The Yanks did give us Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby, but we did give them Bob Hope! And we certainly needed Hope in WW2 don't you think ? (With just a little play on words).

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -
just to pick up on one of your comments of the Troops who crossed the marsh and river at Cassino - would that be the Garigliano - Rapido or the Liri ?
The 46th - 56th British Divisons were nearly wiped our trying to cross the Garigliano before the America 34th and 36th came anywhere near that particular front.... Then Mark Clark tried to take on Cassino head on over the Rapido - this time wiping out his own 34th Div. The 36th was then wiped out at San Pietro - he then called on the 8th Army to help him out - we then sent the Kiwi's over for the next two battles along with the 4th Indian
Div - the last battle was with the whole of the 8th army - while the US 5th - with the North African French under Juin - stormed the Mountains to the west which - strangely were not held by the enemy ! meanwhile Clark then turned left to "liberate" Rome while 8th Army slogged it against two German armies all the way through the Liri Valley - ask Ron - he was there as well ! !

Monday, 15 May, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Joseph,
In my day we were all called by our surnames boys and girls at the jumior school which was mixed. The next five years at senior school we never saw girls they were walled of from us reprobates and possible rapists if we had known what that meant and the mechanics of it. I am afraid things were much slower to mature in those days.
Imagine the fun "Mee, what is the capital of Ceylon" (as it was called then). Me Sir? "Yes you Mee" "Oh You Sir" "No you blithering idiot You Mee" "Oh you mean Me sir" by then board rubbers would be flying about.
I was a bit of a pirate even then and my first report said "This boy is to independent for his own good" You did not question your betters. Somehow a lesson I never took in. I guess the army thought it better to promote me than fight me.

Yes Tom I know the Americans under Clarke took a bashing, my point was they still kept going until even the Germans took pity on them and stopped firing. Due to bad command they were going nowhere any way.
I met the Americans in Germany and as in any army there were the very bad but also the very good troops. The best were on a par with any of us, the worst should have been sent home fast, they were worse than useless.

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006  

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