Indiana University
Journalism Ernie Pyle

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March 16, 2008
Gena Asher

Another long travel day, but we’re all home safe. That’s all to report for now – but I might post a bit more of a wrap-up of the entire trip tomorrow.

March 15, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
Lizzy and Allison laugh while they wait for our walking tour of WWII Paris to begin, behind the Notre Dame Cathedral.

I’m going to keep the travel update rather brief tonight, as I’m short on time and two students have already written up entries about our activities today.

Our last day in Paris was great, spent partially in separate groups exploring the city, and spent partially in a great walking tour of WWII Paris. Our tour guide, Mike, an American, really knew how to talk to our group and was full of knowledge about WWII Paris, including interesting stories and quips about how Paris came to the brink of destruction many times, but was somehow always spared.

Indeed, Hitler had ordered it to be destroyed if the Allied Forces were going to seize it, but German General Dietrich Von Choltitz risked the life of himself and his family by sending a message to the Allied forces in August of 1944, urging them to take Paris as soon as possible. Von Choltitz wouldn’t voluntarily capitulate, but he knew that the sooner the Allies attacked, the greater the chance the city would have of surviving. Because of this – and a lot of luck – Paris survived. Von Choltitz was later awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor by the French government, two of France’s highest honors – all for a Nazi general.

That was just one example of the many stories our guide shared with us, including lots of stories about the liberation day of Paris in August 1944.

As a side note, I took a small group of students to the Paris St.-Germain football match at Parc de Princes stadium tonight, and we had a great time.

We’re off early to Charles de Gaulle airport to begin our travel day home. We’re scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia at 3:55 p.m. tomorrow, so if you’re a parent of a student on the trip, you may start to expect phone calls about then, depending on cell phone batteries. Our flight to Indianapolis is scheduled to arrive at 8:26 p.m. We’ll be on US Airways.

Thanks for reading the blog(s). We’ll still post one or two things tomorrow before we wrap it all up.

March 15, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
During some free time this morning, groups of students spent time exploring Paris on their own. The groups visited places including Sacre Couer, Notre Dame and the Louvre. The Louvre’s famous glass pyramid, designed by I.M. Pei (who also designed the IU Art Museum) is shown here.

Our last day in Paris and what a lovely day it was.

Professor Johnson gave us the morning to visit sites in small groups, so I and another grad student, Nicole Roales, headed up to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. The area is the section of the city where artists like Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec once spent hours debating perspective and art itself. It’s a part of Paris I’ve always wanted to visit.

One major bit of advice to pass along first – don’t take the stairs. Nicole and I decided that after the elevator in the Eiffel Tower, we were done with elevators that seem to go sideways–which the funicular that takes you up to Sacre Coeur does. So, we walked up the stairs. It seemed doable until we were halfway up and I suddenly realized my legs do not like stairs that much. Not endless stairs anyway. But, once I was up there I told my legs to stop complaining.

The view from Sacre Coeur might actually have been more enjoyable for me than that from the Eiffel Tower. You’re closer to the city, but still far enough away to get a good idea of its size and beauty. The basilica itself is one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever seen. The white stone against the green grass and blue sky is almost ethereal. Inside, rainbows danced on the church walls as the sun shining through the stained glass windows moved across the morning sky.  

Later on Nicole and I met up with the rest of the group back at the hotel and it was time for our walking tour of WWII Paris. Our guide was an American named Mike who studied psychology and seems to have an endless knowledge of the city. We saw a lot of the big sites in the city, including the Louvre, the Hotel de Ville and the Champs Elysee. My favorite part of the tour came at the beginning. 

Photo by Tim Street
Brannon Smith near Paris’ Police Headquarters, which was an important site for the French Resistance movement in WWII.

We met Mike at a bridge joining the Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame lives, with Paris itself. Then he took us over to the memorial to French citizens deported by the Nazis during WWII. He told us it was "avant-garde" and similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"I like it because it’s abstract," he said. "You make of it what you will."

Like the Vietnam Memorial, a hush falls over you as soon as you walk into the thing. Unlike the Wall, though, this memorial is white. Clean, clean white. In one area there are what appear to be large black abstract knives or bayonets sticking out of the wall. In a few other spots empty rooms are closed off by iron bars. What got me were the rows and rows of white stones in one section of the memorial. You don’t get close to them, you simply look through more bars, but the effect is the same. You are overwhelmed by their beauty and by how many stones there are. Thousands of them, representing all the people the Nazis deported to work camps from Paris.

In fact, I’ve found all of Paris overwhelming in a way that I never found London to be. This city is beyond beautiful. But there is another side of it I can’t quite get my head around. Not necessarily a sadness, but there are centuries of history here. Awful things happened. Beheadings. The Nazi occupation. The tug-of-war of history and beauty makes my head spin. The what-ifs and what-might-have-beens seem to hang heavy over the Seine.

March 14, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
John Morris shares with the Ernie Pyle class in his Paris home.

He calls photographer Robert Capa his "Hungarian brother," says he should have died in the bombing of Saint Lo and shared a tent with Ernie Pyle – but John Morris is surprisingly down-to-earth.

Friday morning, all 30 of us descended on Morris’ home near the Bastille. He kindly agreed to talk with us even though he was about to leave for a meeting in Brussels. Morris was a photo editor for Life magazine during WWII; he said he only picked up a camera and shot news photos when a photographer didn’t show up for an assignment.

In the Ernie Pyle class we’ve been hearing a lot about the lives of foreign correspondents during World War II, of course focusing on Pyle himself. I haven’t spent too much time thinking about what life must’ve been like for photographers at the time. So, it was interesting to hear how that side of things worked. In this digital era, the idea that entire of rolls of film, film a journalist risked his life for, were simply lost, dropped in the sea or ruined in a photo lab accident, is in a way very foreign.  That second one happened to Capa.  

Photo by Tim Street
John Morris

The only photographer to get images showing any real action during D-Day, Capa ran out in front of the advancing American troops and photographed them as they came ashore. I’ve seen the photos on numerous occasions, but I hadn’t realized until today that only 11 of the images Capa shot (including 4 rolls of 35mm) were publishable. A lab tech ruined the others as he rushed to develop them for the censors.

I asked Morris what Capa’s reaction had been when he found out the film was lost. Morris laughed, said he’d been asked that question a lot, but he wasn’t quite sure.

"I’m sure he was disappointed, but he never said anything to me," Capa said.  "Capa wrote to his mother about his disappointment when he lost the film, but he didn’t really react much at the time."

Although Morris shared a tent with Ernie Pyle, they rarely saw each other.  But, on the day Morris decided to head back to his editing post in London he said Pyle took the time to wish him well and say goodbye.   

Just before Morris had to say goodbye the issue of ethics came up, as it had in London when we visited with John Burns. One of the students asked Morris what he saw as the major ethical issues facing photographers.  He mentioned the problems of deciding how to shoot something and whether to run a photo or not.  But there was another thing he thought was more important.

"For me the bigger problem is the things we don’t photograph," Burns said.  "There are a lot of things that just don’t get covered that should."

March 14, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
Part of the fountain, "La fontaine des Mers," in Concorde Plaza, Paris. Many aristocrats were killed by the guillotine during the French Revolution in this central Parisian square, including Louis XVI and Robespierre.

The end of our trip looms near, but we’re still busy seeing everything we can before we have to come back to the U.S.! Today was our first full day in Paris and we had a great amount to do.

This morning, we had a very special opportunity to meet with John Morris, a 91-year-old veteran of the photojournalism industry. Morris, who has previously worked as a picture editor at Time, The New York Times and many other media outlets, lives here in Paris, near the Bastille memorial. In fact, he invited us – all 34 of us – over to his apartment to hear him talk.

Unfortunately, a blown projector bulb ruled out the slide show he had planned for us, but he talked to us about his experiences as a photo editor, including his time in World War II, where began working closely with famous war photographer Robert Cappa. He also spent some time with Ernie Pyle – and though he said he wasn’t "close" with Pyle, he did share a community tent with him in Normandy.

Photo by Tim Street
Inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Afterwards, we had some free time, and groups of students split up to get lunch and visit parts of Paris. Various groups went to Notre Dame, Versailles and the Louvre museum, and others went shopping or visited other sights.

In the late afternoon, we took a bus tour of the city, seeing the countless monuments and historic sites of Paris, including a trip to the second deck of the Eiffel Tower. The city really is quite amazing.

Tomorrow, it’s our last day abroad, and we plan to soak up as much of Paris as we can.

March 13, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
The imposing island abbey of Mt. St. Michel as we approach along the causeway. Tides here are subject to 45-foot swings between high and low, and the waters frequently lap the outermost walls of the abbey.
Photo by Tim Street
Hilary Robinson and Drew Kincius inside the abbey of Mt. St. Michel.

Another day, another few hundred kilometers covered. We departed from Caen this morning and drove down the Norman coastline to Mt. St. Michel, a famous medieval cathedral, abbey and town. We took a guided tour through the massive cathedral, named for the winged biblical slayer of dragons, St. Michael, and also took some time on our own to explore the island town and eat lunch. It was another rainy day in France, but luckily we were inside for a good amount of time.

After that, we boarded our coach for the last time to embark for Paris. We’ve enjoyed our traveling, but I don’t think anyone was particularly sad that it was our last time taking a coach trip for a while. The drive to Paris took about 4.5 hours, and we arrived at the Hotel Rochester a little before 7 p.m.

Our hotel is located near the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe, near where the Tour de France finishes every year. Most students split up into groups of four or five to grab dinner at a local restaurant, as there are plenty nearby.

We’re calling it an early night tonight, as tomorrow we have a full day of visiting Paris, including a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower (which some of us are lucky enough to see from our hotel rooms). Just a few days left in our trip now!

March 12, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
Students look at names on the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.

Just reporting in to say that all’s well and our group has had a great day in Normandy.

We started off today by meeting our local tour guide at the hotel in Caen and driving through a bevy of small French villages to Omaha Beach. Our guide, Helen, was a Bayeux local and was very knowledgeable about the area.

We spent some time on Omaha Beach, giving students a chance to walk around on the beach. We then traveled to the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which Rosemary has blogged about.

We continued our busy day in the afternoon – immediately after we left the cemetery, we drove down the road to the french town of Longues-sur-Mer, where a battery of German 150-mm naval guns was still mostly intact.

Photo by Tim Street
The Musee du Debarquement in Arromanches, France.

We then lunched in the French town of Arromanches, home of the Allied forces’ amazing engineering feat: the temporary harbor that supplied the invasion forces. Originally Winston Churchill’s idea, the temporary harbor supplied the invasion forces with critical food, supplies and ammunition until a larger, more heavily-defended port – like Cherbourg or Le Havre, could be captured. In Arromanches, we visited the Musee du Debarquement, a small museum devoted to the harbor.

The day still wasn’t over, as there was still much more to see – we visited Bayeux, one of the few Normandy towns that had entirely escaped being bombed or destroyed during the war. There, we saw the famous 230-foot long Bayeux Tapestry, which pictorially tells the tale of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and Norman conquest of England.

Just down the road in Bayeux was the brand new "Memorial des Reporters," which contained the names of many reporters who were killed in the past fifty years. Students stopped to find Ernie Pyle’s name on the 1945 panel. We also spent some time directly across the street at a British war cemetery.

After that our day was finally complete, and we loaded up the bus and completed the half-hour drive back to our hotel in Caen.

March 12, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
Tracie Ortman on Omaha Beach, site of 2,500 American deaths on June 6, 1944.

Forgive me if I get tongue-tied.  I’m not sure I have the words to fully communicate my thoughts.

Today was our tour of Normandy. We also visited Bayeux and Arromanches, but someone else will write about that part of the tour. I will focus on the morning. Focus on the bit of the day which, for me, was the most personal: Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery.

My grandfather fought during World War II. He was an infantryman in the U.S. Army and served in Italy at Anzio Beach – a place Ernie Pyle visited and wrote a good deal about. It’s also where my grandfather became shell-shocked. During his months at Anzio he saw several friends killed and several more gravely injured.

Photo by Tim Street
Audrie Garrison watches as Beka Mech writes her grandfather’s name in the sand at Omaha Beach.

The war destroyed my grandfather, who was eventually reassigned to the Philippines. Were he not reassigned there, he may very well have been on Omaha Beach on D-Day.  

Driving to Omaha Beach, we passed through the village of St. Laurent sur Mer, a town which was destroyed during D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. It’s since been rebuilt and is just lovely. There are stone houses with thatched roofs, the greenest grass and the volatile beauty of the English Channel.

It was difficult to be there amidst all that beauty and to think of all those dead. 2,500 Americans died on Omaha. It was all I could think of – the dead. Dead Ernie Pyle saw, and wrote about.

"The strong, swirling tides of the Normandy coastline shift the contours of the sandy beach as they move in and out. They carry soldiers’ bodies out to sea, and later they return them. They cover the corpses of heroes with sand, and then in their whims they uncover them."*

I walked down onto the beach, as did all of us, and saw it full of men. Young men with dreams and hopes. The tide was low but was beginning to move forward. Then, as now, my mind went empty. Not of feeling but of thought. I think it was the only way my mind could make sense of the awfulness of what happened on June 6, 1944, and the simply serenity of the beach claims now.

The emptiness followed me to the American Cemetery.

Photo by Tim Street
A handful of the 9,386 grave markers at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy.

At the cemetery, there is a sculpture – "The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Sea" –- as well as maps of the D-Day assault and European campaign and the Wall of the Missing. Those are the first few things you see upon walking into the cemetery. Then there are the graves. Row upon row of white tombstones, crosses and Stars of David, blooming out of the verdant field.

While walking among the graves, John McCrae’s poem "In Flanders Fields" kept running through my head. Although that was about World War I it seemed to ring true there among the dead of the Second Great War.

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields."

Photo by Tim Street
Inside the Wall of the Missing, looking at the memorial that contains the sculpture "The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Sea" and maps of Normandy and the European theater.

Among the stones I found a soldier from my home state of Ohio. There was no hometown and no date of birth on PFC Laurence P. Mauser’s gravestone. Simply his name, rank, army division, what state he was from and the day he died. That was all. I suppose it should be enough.  He could have been one of those slumbering under the simple phrase "Here rests in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms, Known but to God". At least PFC Mauser has his name.

At the beach I picked a daisy I saw growing in the grass, planning to press it and place it in an album with the photos I took on Omaha Beach. Instead I found myself placing it on Mauser’s stone. I don’t know why; it just felt like the right thing to do at the moment.  

My time at Omaha Beach will forever be imprinted on my mind. It certainly seemed imprinted on Ernie Pyle’s.

"But there are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world. Dead man by mass production … Dead men in such monstrous infinity you come almost to hate them."**

I can’t hate them.  But I certainly can’t forget them.    

*From Pyle’s column "A Long Thin Line of Personal Anguish," published June 17, 1944
**From Pyle’s unpublished column "On Victory In Europe"

March 11, 2008
Gena Asher
Photo by Tim Street
Lizzie Street on board the Pride of Calais.

Rosemary will be taking the day off from blogging today, and I won’t be posting Colin Dugdale’s blog entry until the morning, so I’ll go ahead and provide some more details than usual this evening.

First of all, apologies if some of you have had trouble accessing the blog today. I know lots of you are reading and counting on updates to know what the group is doing. It turns out the entire journalism web site was out for a time today because of a power outage on the Bloomington campus. When the journalism school doesn’t have power, the Web site can’t be accessed. It also precluded me from posting earlier.

Today was a day devoted entirely to travel. We embarked southwards this morning on a coach bus from our hotel in London to travel to Dover – where, as we can all now attest to, the cliffs really are white.

There was a bit of confusion with our ferry ride across the channel to Calais. There are two major operators that run ferries across the narrowest part of the English Channel between Dover and Calais – Seafrance and P&O. Our tickets were originally scheduled with Seafrance, a French-operated company. However, the workers of Seafrance went on strike last week, so we had to get our tickets transfered to the P&O ferry.

The ticket confusion was compounded by the fact that the ferry companies were incredibly busy today because yesterday’s high winds kept all ferries in port. As such, there was a huge backlog of commercial traffic trying to get across the channel. The trucks (or "lorries," as the Brits would call them) were lined up for quite a distance.

Despite the travel drama, the group remained in high spirits, and we traveled across the channel and arrived in Calais only a couple of hours later than we had originally planned. Most of the students had never been on a ferry the size of the Spirit of Calais before, and as such, it was a unique experience. The channel was a bit choppy, but luckily no one got very seasick. You can certainly see how soldiers in the landing craft of the allied invasion force would have gotten seasick on D-Day, though.

Once we arrived in Calais, our charter coach met us just outside the ferry, and we loaded our luggage and departed for Caen. After a brief bit of trouble with a curious backup on the French highway – apparently traffic jams for no reason aren’t unique to the United States – we were on our way.

We’re all here now at the Nôvotel in Caen. We checked in, ate dinner, and are relaxing in our rooms. Tomorrow, we’ll spend the day hopping on and off our coach at various Normandy points of interest, including the Embarkment Museum, the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach and other interesting places with WWII history. We’ll be back again in Caen tomorrow night with two student blog entries.

March 10, 2008
Gena Asher

Despite today’s rainy and windy weather, we got to see a lot of interesting places and fit in some free time to roam about the city. We woke up and took the tube to Paddington Station (remember Paddington Bear, anyone?) and headed to our first stop, the Frontline Club.

The Frontline Club is a group of journalists who cover foreign issues and the war. We were fortunate enough to hear from John Burns, the London Bureau Chief for the New York Times. He was an incredible guy with lots of wisdom for us. He’s been covering the war in Iraq and has spent time in Africa and Afghanistan as well. His job as a journalist covering war has been pretty difficult – he was even kidnapped once and barely survived – yet he remains very calm.

One of the most important things he said to us was to remember to be a citizen before being a journalist. He actually reminded me a lot of Ernie Pyle, because Ernie would also have always looked out for people’s needs before simply "getting the story." Burns also talked about handling ethics and the importance of interpreting on and off the record situations. Overall, he was absolutely amazing to listen to – we hardly realized he talked to us for almost two hours.

After braving the weather (lots of wind and rain – our umbrellas were frequently inverted) and grabbing a quick lunch, we went to St. Paul Cathedral, a beautiful old church in the heart of London that barely survived a horrible bombing in Dec. 1940. St. Paul’s was huge and majestic. We got to walk around it for awhile – even visiting a crypt down in the basement that was a bit creepy -– and most students ventured up pretty high to get an even better view. We were talking about how beautiful it would be to have a wedding there when we heard someone mention Princess Diana was married in this cathedral.

Our last organized activity today was the Cabinet War Rooms. These were established during the blitz during World War II. Air raids happened almost every night and the Cabinet needed a private, established place underground where prime minister Winston Churchill could meet with the other members. Many of the rooms were completely restored to their original 1940s state.The Winston Churchill Museum was also inside, and it included an interactive touchscreen timeline where you could see what Churchill was up to most of the days of his life. We couldn’t help playing around with it for quite some time.

The long day proved to be incredibly interesting. It’s crazy to actually see these places that are so full of history. We also found plenty of chances to get in pictures of our London favorites – double decker buses and Big Ben. Tomorrow we have a long day ahead of us as we say goodbye to England and travel by bus, then ferry, to Caen, France.