In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle: 2013
|Students visited Buckingham Palace on a day when they covered several historical sites.|
The class visited England and France with associate professor Owen Johnson, the sixth time the class has traveled to places the World War II correspondent made famous in his columns. They followed Pyle’s path from London to Paris as he reported on the war in Europe. The group also visited Omaha Beach and Normandy.
By Kerchanin Allen
After a long trip across the pond, the vast majority of us simply wanted nothing more than a hot breakfast and an equally hot shower. Not to be had, US Airlines!
After the previous evening’s extra four hours of layover time in Charlotte due to a broken aircraft (never any news more specific, only that it was broken), we finally arrived in Gatwick, England, UK, to some very cold weather and no down time.
There was really nothing to complain about, though: We made it! And the sight of London was so beautiful as the bus pulled up that all of our fatigue flew away with the icy northern wind. Our tour guide was adorable, and actually had a hint of a French accent (although that could be a misplaced twang in my sleepy mind). She drove us everywhere that we could think of seeing on TV or in stories about London.
The most remarkable to me was the truths she revealed to us about Big Ben. It turns out Big Ben is not so accurately named by the American populous. In fact, it is only the name of the bell. The cathedral tower is actually named Victoria Tower in honor of her majesty, Queen Victoria. This is apparently commonly known by the tour guides in London, since it was a “pop trivia question” on our walking tour the following day.
It was not difficult to ignore jetlag and the previous day’s lack of sleep with the presentation of London before us. We had a taste of everything from the London Bridge to the old underground. We saw the London Eye, the Tower of London and even Westminster Abbey and THE Buckingham Palace. The queen was not in when we got there, unfortunately, but we got out and learned about the palace and the history of when the royal family moved there.
We had 10 minutes around the palace to take photos and look at the beautiful golden adornments of the gates in front of the palace. The cold was no deterrent to intrigue, as the tour took us also to the Shard. This skyscraper is 95 stories tall, 309.6 meters and is the tallest building in the European Union. The Shard was built, according to our guide, in 2012 and opened to the public early in 2013.
The tour gave us a preliminary view of what London had to offer us, and the things that can be experienced in London over the next few days. Our guide was bright and spirited and obviously loved her job of telling us all of the brightest parts of her town.
A full day of exploring
By Kylie Anne Cisney
My third day in London was eventful. After lunch at the Wesley Café outside Westminster Abby, the group had finally warmed up and we began the second half of our day at the Churchill War Rooms.
The war rooms were Churchill’s former war headquarters. His office had been bombed, and, for safety, his staff was moved underground. The tour was self-guided with audio listening devices available to hear a guide talk about a specific part about the museum.
I loved looking at the replications of the rooms. The museum uses pictures and people’s accounts as sources. Apart from the war rooms was a section devoted to the life of Winston Churchill. It looked at everything from his career in politics to his childhood to his love life. I’m ashamed to say that I knew very little about Churchill until I visited this museum. The exhibits gave me a greater respect for him.
The tour ended, as most tours do, in a small gift shop. As I entered, I saw many replicas of wartime posters. Most of the posters were encouraging civilians to do their part to help the war effort. One of my favorites called on women to do less shopping. This made me laugh because we women love to shop, but during the war, the country needed to conserve material for the soldiers. I purchased a small black and white postcard picturing a woman from the 1940s leaning on a globe. I love traveling, and I imagined I was she. She looked very classy and cultured.
Finally, we had the evening free. This meant that I could explore the city on my own. I believe that real travel happens when you experience the city like the locals do. I set off with two others, Jordan Canary and Sarah Davis. We had a few things we wanted to do while we were out. First, we wanted to go to the evening church service at Westminster Abbey. Second, we were dying to go to Kings Cross Station to see Platform 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter novels. Last, we want to eat and drink at an authentic British pub.
After changing into more suitable attire, the three of us headed out to Westminster Abby. It was breathtaking. When I walked into the building, I was so afraid that if I spoke, the beautiful spell would be broken. We sat extremely close to the front and waited for the service to begin. The address was about Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, a priest and a poet, who worked as a chaplain during the World War I. After the service, I lit a candle for my prayers, and then we were on our way to Kings Cross Station.
At the station was a special “tourist” location for fans of the Harry Potter novel series to take pictures with a trolley going through Platform 9 ¾, the same as in the books. I have always been a huge HP fan, and this was exciting to pretend to be a part of the magic. We stayed there for only a few minutes.
Finally, the three of us headed to Piccadilly Circus to find a pub. We walked around for awhile and just enjoyed the streets of London. This section of town closely resembled Times Square in New York City. It was very loud and fast paced. There were so many restaurants around that area, including American chains like McDonald’s. We ended up eating at The Comedy Pub. I ordered sausage and mash, and a pint of beer. The food was delicious and the beer was great. We all laughed the whole time. I felt like a real Londoner. We were at the pub for over two hours.
The whole time I’ve been in London, I’ve been imagining living here someday. Hopefully, it will happen. It would be so wonderful to live over here. There is so much history all around. I can’t wait to come back soon.
This trip has brought about so many new experiences that I would have never been able to be a part of otherwise. I’m so glad I applied for this trip, and I’m sure that I will never forget the amazing things I’ve done here.
Exploring ancient London
By Renee Rynard
Today was our third day in London. We took the tube from our hotel and ended up at Blackfriar, where we got off and headed to St. Bride’s Church, known as the inspiration for tiered wedding cakes modeled after the steeple.
Upon arriving, we met up with Lyse Doucet, a BBC freelance radio reporter and anchor. Doucet had amazing things to say about her experiences covering wars in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. She is somewhat of a modern day Ernie Pyle, with her emphasis on the importance of remembering the “humanity of reporting.” Her journalistic experiences were inspiring to all of us aspiring journalists.
After our talk with Doucet, we took a look around the historical church, exploring what is known to be the “spiritual home of the media.” There is an altar dedicated to journalists who have lost their lives while war reporting. After hearing Doucet talk and knowing the background of Ernie Pyle, the sight of this altar reinforced for all of us the sacrifices that these men and women make to inform the world of tragic acts of humanity.
We then met up with one of the parishoners at the church who served as our guide. He gave us a very detailed tour of the 1335 AD religious site and explained the significance of the building.
He said St. Bride’s Church is one of the oldest religious settlements in London. The church is located on Fleet Street, also known for its publishing because in 1500, the first printing press was there. The clergy was then formed.
In 1632 Christopher Wren redesigned the church, making it the seventh church built on that site. He didn’t believe in putting stained glass windows in his churches. He insisted that sunlight was a gift from God. The guide described the damage that the church suffered from bombs in WWII.
In the basement of the church, or the crypt, we saw pavement that dated back to the Roman ages as well as boxes of remains of people who had been buried there. The guide said that in 1665, the parish lost 238 members as a result of The Great Plague, and most of them had been buried in the crypt. The crypt had been sealed and was not discovered until an archeological study lead by professor Grimes in the 1950s. We were also led to a hidden chapel, the Charnel house, in the crypt that dated back to medieval times and had been remodeled.
It was unexpected to see a church so dedicated to remembering the lives of journalists that had been lost in war time.
Talk with BBC’s Lyse Doucet
By Holly Hays
The last time BBC reporter Lyse Doucet was in Syria, she came face-to-face with the reality of a brutal war. Over a hundred people dead, charred bodies surrounded by shell casings filled the room, divided by trails of blood smears where the bodies had to be dragged through the dust on the floor.
These were the bodies of civilians who had been targeted by Syrian forces.
Doucet, an international correspondent for the BBC, shared stories of her 30-year career with students in associate professor Owen Johnson’s J418 From London to Paris: In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle class.
She met with students in the crypts of St. Bride’s Cathedral in London, where students spent a few days during spring breaks as they literally followed World War II correspondent Pyle’s path from London to Paris to Normandy.
Pyle himself was victim to the dangers of war reporting. He was killed on Ie Shima in 1945 while reporting for Scripps-Howard newspapers.
In her long career, Doucet has traveled many times to countries in tumult. Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia — each gave her a glimpse into civilian life during times of war, including the first Afghan vote in 2004, a day in which she said that both Afghans and journalists were crying in awe of what was happening around them.
Doucet said the growing difficulties for foreign correspondents, including drone strikes and constant attention from government officials.
“Never has there been a time in our lives when the reporting has been so rough and the history has been so historic,” Doucet said. “The risks are great, but equally, the stories need telling.”
She recalled witnessing the massacre in Syria, a country which for years had experienced tense revolution and whose people had been living in constant fear of the government. She recalled another time in which she approached a group of civilians outside a mosque in Barzeh, Syria. A man approached her crew and pressed a piece of paper into the hand of her producer that explained that no one could talk because the army was waiting on the next street.
Six months later, the army was gone, and the civilians were sharing their horror stories, showing her bullet-riddled buildings and illustrating their strife.
“A people had lost their fear,” Doucet said.
However, when she returned a year after her encounter at the mosque, the troops were back and journalists were not allowed back in. Doucet herself was experiencing pressure from the Syrian government to censor her stories. Other than funeral announcements, the fear had returned, she said, and that no one was willing to share their experiences.
All except a young boy.
As she approached the boy and his mother, she asked them to share their thoughts on the army’s presence. The mother turned away and refused to speak, but her son tugged on her hand and pleaded with her to talk.
“‘Tell her what’s happening,’” Doucet recalled the boy saying. “‘We’re begging them to stop.’”
Doucet was not alone in her experiences with the Syrian government, though some journalists experienced more dangerous encounters than others. She recalled the death of her friend Marie Colvin, a fellow journalist who had crossed the Syrian border with the aid of rebels and had reported from Homs before her building was hit by a targeted drone strike in early 2012.
“Journalists should always live by the maxim that no story is worth dying for,” Doucet said. “The agonizing question is: When are the risks too great?”
Doucet stressed the importance of being safe while reporting from potentially dangerous situations. She said journalists need to know their limits and stop reporting a story when they feel that the social and political climates have become too tumultuous.
Above all, she said, retaining the ability to write a good story in these situations is key.
“Be bold, be brave, and be brilliant, but be safe,” she said.
Blustery day does not stop intrepid tourists
By James Gross
We emerged from the Tube to a vicious wind. One would assume that if you were to have a stay in London, you might have an awareness of the potential weather conditions. Well, pardon. Delayed flights have an ability to wear on one’s sensibilities.
Needless to say, we awoke to a spectacular breakfast. I am not one for breakfast, usually, complimentary breakfasts at that, but I could not believe the room I walked into. As you walk in, there are two island counters to choose from with assorted components of a traditional English breakfast.
The right counter was overcrowded when I came into the room, so I was forced to venture left. Fresh fruit. Smoked mackerel. Bangers and mash…yes! My preconception of complimentary breakfasts consisted of congealed eggs, pink-textured meat resembling bacon and whatever else a hotel could throw at you—and I mean that in almost a literal sense. The breakfast was immaculate and a revelation at that.
Leaving the Tube, having gorged on an abundance of food and had a legitimate experience doing so, wasn’t as jarring as had been anticipated. Our spirits were high, but not for long, as morale dipped upon reaching the blustery banks of the Thames.
Now, this wasn’t like past years where the groups had been taken to the Imperial War Museum. No. And not to disservice Edward, our wonderful tour guide, who even told us he had to print notes for his modified speech. Due to the closure of the Imperial War Museum, this year’s tour focused on Westminster as it pertained to World War II.
The Thames was our first stop, and to those who are unfamiliar with London and the Blitz or even our itinerary, we exited the Tube at Westminster, which is where Big Ben resides. Well, as we were informed, that is not quite the case. The tower is not named Big Ben. That’s the name of the bell that resides in the tower. Elizabeth Tower is the name in which Big Ben resides. That was somewhat of a downer to hear.
From the Thames we moved along the riverside towards the diplomat residencies of London. From there we walked towards St. James Park and down to Buckingham Palace. Our stopping points were in Westminster, the area where the central government resides.
The bombing during WWII, however, mostly occurred in East London. Fun fact: while surveying East London after the first days of the Blitz, the Royal Family was booed by local residents. The family’s residency in central London that gave East Londoners the perception of being disassociated with the bombing. It wasn’t long, though, before the German Luftwaffe’s priorities shifted to encompass the greater London area. Public opinion of the royal family soon swung towards a positive light.
The tour concluded at the Methodist Central Hall where we ate lunch and talked with our guide, Edward. It was a lovely time. There were many steps down, many more than what a usual basement might call for. We soon learned that the basement had been converted into a bomb shelter during the war. After a long day of walking, the connection wasn’t quite apparent. Once downstairs we ate, and that was lunch. With not much time to spare, we built up energy and set forth to our next objective — the Cabinet War Room.
Mishaps, changes of plans undaunting
By Jordan Canary
A day that should have been calm and relaxing ended up turning into an unfortunate series of mishaps and confusion
Our fifth day began early. We met in the hotel lobby at 6:50 a.m., suitcases loaded onto the bus, and said our goodbyes to London as we headed to Portsmouth. It was about a two hour drive to the small seaport town, and most of our group slept on the way there.
For those who didn’t sleep (such as me), the quiet drive offered a beautiful view of the English countryside. When we reached Portsmouth, we stopped by a hotel to pick up our tour guide then headed back out to tour the historic little town by bus.
Our tour of Portsmouth was filled with interesting history, and beautiful buildings and harbors. We learned that the town served as an important naval port during World War II and was used on D-Day to send out naval ships to Normandy. Home to Eisenhower’s headquarters, it also was the site Eisenhower set as the location to begin the D-Day invasion. The town was a prime target for raids and bombings due to its naval significance to the war, and because of the major military, police and naval training done there. To this day, Portsmouth’s Defense College of Police and Guardians continues to perform military and naval training.
Intermixed with the big ships and the old fortresses surrounding the town are small fishing boats, cute cafes and cozy townhouses. A quick drive through Old Portsmouth provided a picturesque view a traditional English town, The tour bus only stopped twice — once while we were up on Portsdown Hill, where we could overlook the town as the big defense fortresses did, and once by the harbor to view an old naval battle ship.
After the tour, we stopped to have a three-course lunch at the cozy harborside restaurant, Fayre and Square. From there, the plan was to board a ferry and sail seven hours to Caen, France, where we would spend the night. The next day, we were scheduled to go to Normandy. However, things didn’t go as planned. Due to severe weather conditions, including dangerous winds and freezing temperatures, we learned our ferry to Caen was cancelled.
Disappointed but still hopeful, we figured we could just wait out the rough weather and catch an overnight ferry instead. But right before lunch, we learned more bad news—Normandy itself was completely shut down. A freak snowstorm had dumped 20 inches of snow on the town and beaches, making our planned tour impossible.
Reeling from the news, we ate our lunch as planned. The meal was delicious, consisting of soup, steak and pudding. When we finished, we boarded the bus and headed back to London. Our new plans Owen had quickly put together included a new hotel and a tour of the HMS Belfast the next day. As for this day, however, we were once again given a free evening London.
Despite the disappointments and mishaps from earlier in the day, my friends and I enjoyed another free evening in London. After putting our suitcases away, we walked across Abbey Road, pretending to be the Beatles. We then got lost in a little residential area of the city, but it was a great experience. We saw quaint houses, parents walking their children home from school and a fox casually strolling down the city streets. We went to Harrod’s after that, and marveled at the enormous department store and extravagant, name-brand clothing. We enjoyed tea time in Harrod’s tea room, and each had our own pots and treats.
After we left Harrod’s, we spent the rest of our evening in a little pub called Alsopp Arms. It was a wonderful time—we had ale, cider, and fish and chips, and talked and laughed till the pub closed. We walked along the rainy city streets, singing and laughing, getting lost, and eventually finding the Underground.
We finally returned to our hotel late in the evening, and discovered the majority of our Ernie Pyle group hanging out in the hotel restaurant. We all talked briefly, then went our separate ways, some out into the city for more adventures, some up to bed. I joined those who went to bed.
Although the day was full of mishaps and confusion, it ended up turning into its own adventure.
By Sydney Murray
Today was our second in Paris and, despite getting lost on the way to our tour, the day was one to remember.
After the tour, five of us went to a small restaurant near the Louvre. I ate an amazing cheese, tomato and pesto panini and was able to converse some with our waiter in French. Although I have lost much of my skills since I took my last French class a year ago, it has been fun to try to talk with Parisians.
After dinner, we headed to the Louvre, one of my favorite parts of Paris so far. Since it was a Friday night, all people under the age of 26 get in for free!
The Louvre is massive. Our tour guide from when we first got to Paris told us it would take about two months to completely look at everything at the museum. Kirsten and I only saw a small part of the museum during our two hours inside. My favorite part was seeing the Venus de Milo and the Victory at Samothrace. I don’t know much about art, but I am currently taking a class about Hellenistic art and have been learning about these two pieces in my classes. It was an amazing experience to recognize and have some information about these pieces as well as see them up close and in person.
The Louvre itself is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. I believe that even if there was no art in the building, people would still come to see the building itself. The ceilings all had beautiful paintings and gold trim. The outside of the building has beautiful architecture with blue domes and statues of many philosophers. I wish we had historic buildings such as this back home.
When we exited the Louvre at night, there were streetlights lining the entire building. The glass pyramid was lit up and the crescent moon was shining. It all made for a wonderful site to see. To add, the Eiffel Tower was lit up in the distance as we headed back to the metro station. It’s pretty cool to be navigating Paris on our own.
Once we got back to the hotel, Kirsten and I decided to get some crepes. I got a sugar and she got Nutella in hers.
It was an amazing day and I am sad we won’t get to spend much more time here since we are heading to Normandy tomorrow. We spent five days in London and felt we were truly able to know the city. I’m sad we won’t get to do the same with Paris. It just means I will have to come back some day!
Data on Paris
By Julianna Mchale
Today we toured Paris. We arrived when France had received the most snow in 27 years. We toured the Bastille Square through the Opera House and learned the important relationship between Paris and art. Paris is primarily known for starting the impressionist movement.
Some interesting facts that we learned about during the tour included how Bastille Square marked the French Revolution. We also learned about how there are 80 private mansions and 20 districts in Paris. The population is 200 million and there are 14 lines for the metropolitan.
There is a main river in Paris that divides the city in two: the left bank and the right bank. Ninety percent of buildings are 37 meters in Paris with no high rise buildings. The famous Louvre museum has been 800 years in the making with 400,000 pieces of art.
The Opera House was built in 1875 and can accommodate 1,997 guests. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 and was supposed to be around for only six months because the residents thought it was useless and ugly. The Scribe Hotel is where Ernie Pyle stayed and the Marie Hotel is where the artist Dali stayed. Overall, Paris is a beautiful city full of history.
A talk with John Morris
By Kirsten Clark
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on John Morris’ 25th birthday.
Since then, the photo editor and photographer has experienced the Cold War and America’s conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The only war that had any justification in my life was World War II,” he said during a presentation with IU students Friday. All wars beside that, he said, were unnecessary.
Morris opened his Paris apartment to students in J418 From London to Paris: In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle, who spent spring break following the famed World War II correspondent’s path in Europe.
The students, led by associate professor Owen Johnson, watched as Morris flipped through iconic war and peacetime photos on his Kodak Ektalite 1500 slide projector. He explained the wars captured by those photos and the stories behind the images.
As photo editor, Morris made decisions that put those wars in front of readers. For example, he decided Eddie Adams’ photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in the streets of Vietnam should run on the front page of The New York Times.
It was Morris who made the decision to put Associated Press photographer Nick Ut’s image of a Vietnamese girl, burning from napalm and running down the street, on the front page.
The images were shocking, he said, but they also told an important truth.
Morris, now 96, frankly offered his views of war.
“There are too many people who enjoy the war,” he said. “There are too many people who profit from war.”
Morris’ work with various publications, including Life magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Ladies’ Home Journal, has conveyed the gritty truth of war, even when his job was not taking the photos himself. When Robert Capa died in May 1954 after stepping on a land mine during the First Indochina War, Morris reviewed the photos retrieved from Capa’s last two rolls of film. Morris requested Capa’s last photo be printed with a black border, which is the way it has appeared in most publications then and now.
During his time at Ladies’ Home Journal, Morris contributed to a story about the everyday lives of farming families in different countries. Farming, he said, is a universal occupation, and he wanted to show how similar people are, regardless of where they live.
“It was my hope, and it still is, that people could live in peace if we got to know each other.”
This course about Ernie Pyle and WWII is the second class about war reporting and photojournalism I’ve taken at IU. I’ve heard of war journalists adopting anti-war stances, but I think this was the first time I’ve actually heard someone talk about it. I have to admit, it’s difficult to disagree with Morris — he’s seen the majority of the conflicts that have occurred the past 100 years, either through his own lens or through the photos of others. He learned from his own experiences, as well as those of some of the most well-respected war photographers of the century.
“I’m still, oddly enough, an optimist,” he said.
Ut’s photo, which has become known as the “napalm girl,” now sits in Morris’ apartment inside a clear casing. It’s signed by Ut in black marker: “For John,” it reads. “Peace.”
I would end this post there, but I should probably tie this into Pyle’s life before I sign off.
Morris met Pyle in Normandy, France, at a U.S. Army press camp during WWII. Morris was leaving France for London, where he was working at the time. Pyle, he said, was the only one of the war journalists there who said goodbye. Morris didn’t know the famous columnist well, he said, but Pyle seemed like a decent guy.
Delays mean more London
By Madison Borgmann
The cancellation of travel plans due to Mother Nature’s unexpected snow storms are never fun. But how many times does someone get to say snow has stuck them in London?
For the first time all week, we were rewarded some time to sleep in since we didn’t have to meet in the hotel lobby until 9:45 a.m. I know all of us were appreciative of the extra shut-eye, especially because all of us were running the candle at both ends trying to see all the sights of London and cover every inch of the city.
We started our day with a tour of the HMS Belfast, anchored near the Tower Bridge in the Thames River. Our tour guide from the first day in London pointed the ship out and with our extra day in London there was time to tour the Royal Navy cruiser.
Standing on the ship, one has a 360-degree view of the entire London Embankment. My favorite part of the view was the architectural differences seen from building to building; at one end is the Tower of London and looking farther down the river is a brand new building lined with windows.
For the first time since arriving in London, the sun was shinning bright enough that I had to wear my sunglasses. Not complaining, especially as I wandered around the deck of the Belfast. Eventually the cloud covering came in and continued the self-guided ship tour into the bowels of the cruiser.
The Belfast was one of the most powerful cruisers in the Royal Navy that helped the British protect the arctic convoys and most notably the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst during the Battle of North Cape. In relation to our trip following the footsteps of Ernie Pyle during WWII, the HMS Belfast spent five weeks in Normandy during the D-Day landings and fired one of the first shots in the most well known battle of the entire war.
Real-life mannequins fill each of the inner rooms of the Belfast, preserving the ship for visitors to feel as if they are walking through the Belfast in the 1940s. Some of the mannequins were so real that I was a little uncomfortable and would be spooked upon walking up to one of the rooms, in particular the hospital ward and dentist office.
Following the tour, the group split up to explore the last few items on our must see list of London. Some people went to the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London Eye, but my roommate Jenny and I decided to visit the British Museum.
All the museums in London are free, and I had visited the building at closing time earlier in the week and was excited to be able to go back and have time to wander around the exhibits. Walking through the large white pillars and through the grand wooden doors your eyes can’t help but stare at the window plated ceiling and adjust to the amazing amount of light that pours in and highlights the floor to ceiling marble walls and staircases. It truly is a breathtaking site.
We decided to buy audio guide tours since we had three hours to spend in the museum wanting to appreciate and understand each of the exhibits. However, after spending two hours in only the Ancient Greece section walking through the Parthenon sculptures, one of the museums main attractions. After speeding up our tour through Ancient Rome, Europe, Korea and many other cultures, we sat down at a table in the grand lobby and soaked in the magnificent atmosphere.
Knowing we had an early flight back to Paris, we grabbed Korean cuisine on Oxford Street and indulged in some cookies from the famous London bakery Ben’s Cookies to eat on the Tube as we headed back to the hotel.
By Jessalyn Hatton
Not so bright, but very early, the students of J418 gathered in the hotel lobby at 3:45 a.m., ready to finally travel on to Paris.
Armed with our boxed breakfasts and packed bags, we clambered onto the coach. The short ride to the airport consisted of battling sleep, struggling to eat cereal on a moving vehicle and saying goodbye to London.
Leaving London was a little rough; we were just getting settled into the city, but we were ready to get to France. Because of a snowstorm, giving Normandy about 20 inches of snow, we were unable to travel to France as planned. However, we were still en route to Paris on the planned day. We just stayed in London a little longer than expected.
The short flight to Paris was uneventful. When we got off the plane in France, it was our first taste of seeing French as the dominant language on all of the signs at the airport. Although we were exhausted from the early morning, the group buzzed with the excitement of being in a new country.
Unlike when we landed in England and our tour of London, this time at the hotel we had the chance to eat lunch, shower or nap at our hotel before getting on the bus for the tour of Paris. At the end of the tour, we were dropped off at the Eiffel Tour, and the rest of the day was ours to explore the city of lights.
A tour of Paris
By Kathleen Reese
Our tour guide, Gill, was knowledgeable about World War II, and I was astonished he grew up in California. Gill took us around the Notre Dame and then to the other parts of the history through the French Resistance to the Germans who took over the northern and western parts of France in the summer of 1940.
Charles De Gaulle would be an important man to remember. He stood six feet and six inches high, but landed in England to broadcast through the BBC network to rally resistance against the Nazi militia staying in France. The other resistance parties were communistic, but Charles was more interested in France’s liberation.
Before the Nazi militia stationed in the country in 1940, the country lost nearly 1.5 million men, said Gill. After the Nazis occupied France, the society was faced with the strain of curfews and other consequences.
Even though it was unseasonably cold, Gill’s talk was interesting, such as his description of a bomb thrown out a window.
“You see that old woman,” he said, “Well I believe she is old because she has a cane, but maybe that is not nice. The fact is, where she was standing is where the explosion happened.”
It was later than expected when the tour ended, but it was a great ending to a busy day in Paris.
By Tommy Grooms
After a fashion, the In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle travel group finally made it to Normandy, though we didn’t exactly storm the beaches. Freak snowstorms in France delayed our departure from London by three days. Originally we were meant to take a ferry ride across the English Channel (by which we could experience, as close as possible, what Pyle did), but the visit to Normandy turned into a day trip involving a two-hour bus ride from Paris.
We started our trip by visiting a memorial to wartime reporters in Bayeux. The memorial, inaugurated in 2007, features white stone markers engraved with the names of journalists killed in action for every year since 1944. A bridge leads to a grassy walkway with the stones lining either side, with names engraved on both faces of each stone. On the day we visited, it was drizzling and the walkway was lined with slush. Some of my less-prepared female peers ended up with sodden shoes.
The number of names on the stones was somewhat shocking. Generally as Westerners we only tend to hear of Western reporters killed in action. This memorial honors all reporters, including those reporters from and in countries with wars that to us are more obscure. Lists of names in unfamiliar languages often dwarfed those that sounded familiar. It’s a solemn reminder of just how much conflict is still left in the world, conflict in which we don’t always play a direct part.
Our guide lamented that more people don’t visit this memorial, due to its situation in a place like Bayeux rather than a bigger city like Paris. I never really considered memorials in that sense before: Where do you put something that really belongs to all nations? It is a difficult issue that I’m glad I don’t have to worry about.
Next we visited a British World War II cemetery, which contained markers for both British soldiers and German soldiers. We were not able to spend much time there because of our tight schedule, but I remember a large headstone placed in the midst of the cemetery with the inscription “Their name liveth forevermore.” It made me feel small.
The feeling I had while visiting the American cemetery was similar, but even more profound so near to the ocean observable in the distance. The rain and wind were especially chilling by that point, and contributed to the solemn mood. We participated in a ceremony that consisted of the playing of our national anthem, a playing of Taps, and then a full 60 seconds of silence. We then were given time to walk through the cemetery and see things like the reflecting pool, the chapel, and the Wall of the Missing which had inscribed the names of all of the soldiers that had never been found.
It’s an odd feeling, walking past row upon row of headstones. Each marker represents someone who didn’t come home, quite literally, since these were Americans buried on a foreign shore. I almost felt guilty knowing I was scheduled to get on a plane bound for Philadelphia the next morning.
After that we walked along Omaha Beach itself, although there wasn’t much sand to see since it was high tide. Luckily by then the rain had stopped. I was struck by how high the cliffs were, and we could glimpse German bunkers nestled inside the hills behind the houses that had been built there. You don’t really get an idea of what it must have been like to take those hills by force until you are standing by the sea shore — and even then, you still don’t have anything close to an idea of what it must have been like.
We finally visited a museum on the shore of the beach all about the D-Day landing, in particular the extraordinary engineering feat of how they managed to move supplies from sea to land. I get the feeling it is the sort of thing Ernie Pyle would have loved to write a column about, had he had the time. Learning about how an entire port was constructed overseas and then put together right on the shores as the battle was still raging further inland brought to mind a few of Pyle’s columns praising the World War II engineers.
After that, the day — our last scheduled day of the trip — was over. It was the day I was looking forward to the most, and the day that left me with the most to think about when it was over. It’s a day I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Perfect weather for a perfect day
By Sarah Davis
The weather. It was our constant antagonist all week, and on our final day, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. While the ominous conditions befuddled our entire week’s plans, for our Saturday trip to Normandy, it was perfect.
A three and a half hour bus ride (a bus with no bathroom, mind you) transported us from Paris to northern France. On the way out of the city, we drove past the glorious Notre Dame and practically underneath the Eiffel Tour. That was the last thing I remember before passing out for the remainder of the trip.
Our tour guide, Helen, was splendid and so happy. We arrived at Bayeux and stopped on the square. While waiting for the bathroom, I asked her about the little town. She said she grew up in the town and loved the roses that used to shroud the square. There were no more roses, but I believe the shrubbery in the spring time next to the rolling river would be a magnificent sight.
Our first stop was a monument for journalists who died in action. The 1945 stone was engraved with name that was the reason we were there. Ernie Pyle. Just a simple etching of the names was not a lot, but enough to make sure their name would never be forgotten.
Ernie Pyle’s name has been etched into my memory, and retracing his footsteps has enriched my life. Knowing that he, too, experienced many “first-times” like I did on this trip—first time in the underground Tube system, first time seeing the glorious buildings in Paris, first time seeing rows and rows of graves—is fascinating to think about.
Our second stop was one of many British cemeteries. Helen informed us that the British did not like to move the bodies of their fallen soldiers, so they had many gravesites scattered across the Normandy country side. She said there was one cemetery with only one grave in it.
Leaving this site was a whole ordeal in itself. Fifteen minutes down the road, a hushed murmur rippled across the bus. “Where’s Marty?” “Marty isn’t on the bus!” Never leave a soldier behind was a philosophy that did not apply to us… we had left Marty at the British cemetery. Helen’s wonderful husband, who spoke only French, came to the rescue and delivered Marty to the American war memorial just in time.
Huddled under umbrellas, we stood on two lines facing each other. Bright red and yellow roses clasped in our hands contrasted well against the gray, steely backdrop. The national anthem played and we turned our faces toward the rain and the two American flags waving above a pool of water that resembled the mall in Washington, D.C. We had a minute of silence and reflection upon “The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves” statue that was mounted in the middle of the tall, spectacular, stone memorial built to remember the mass of young adults buried a hundred yards away.
And that is why the weather was fitting. The gray rain was the only weather that seemed OK to juxtapose the hundreds of white crosses and occasionally the white Star of David lined up in perfect rows that seemed like rows of marching soldiers when you walked by them.
And that is when I broke the rules. After the service, I walked down to the small chapel and decided to break off and go a little farther to the end of the green lot. Because of the rain, we were not permitted to go on the grass. However, I held my rose and the only place I felt I could lay down was next to a tombstone. So I looked over my shoulder and quickly dashed onto the grass to place it beside the closest Jewish gravestone. I stayed long enough to get the name before returning to the pavement. Eli Mayzel. A soldier probably around the age of 24 who died for an extreme moralistic cause. I thank Eli Mayzel and every other soldier buried there. A tear slid down my cheek, but, thank goodness, the rain was there to hide it.
Our next stop was Omaha beach. This was incredible to see, in a horrific, eye-opening way. To think that hundreds of men laid down their lives in this place was too much to think about, especially considering the number of beach-side homes along the coast, and the “D-Day Café and Hotel” built along the water. I wonder if anyone eats there.
At high tide, we were not able to walk along the sand, but that presented the opportunity for exploring a few of the stone German bunkers that were still intact. Stepping inside was eerie… the more I think about it, the worse it seems.
Once again, the weather changed with the turn of events. Lunch time arrived, and the sun came out. Though it was the end of the week, I was still experiencing a few of the ignorant-American-mishaps prone to happen to me. Sitting down to lunch in a quaint waffle house with two other friends, I watched them order tea and café crème (a French staple) and I thought to myself, I should try “Normandy Coffee” while in Normandy. Never did it cross my mind I was ordering half and half—coffee mixed with hard liquor. What an experience.
Leaving again for Paris was a wonderful sight. Driving through the valleys, you can see small towns dotting the landscape, and, in each one, the church steeple towers above every other building. Once we hit the city limits, the rain began again, but once again, this was OK in my book.
After watching Midnight in Paris, I wanted to experience Paris in the rain. Owen Wilson goes on and on about the smell and the sight of the city being exponentially better after nature’s cleansing. And he was right. After quickly hopping on the metro, two friends and I ran out of the Ecole Militaire stop and found an empty park lined with trees that lay about three-quarters of a mile from the Eiffel Tower. It was in that instant where we stopped for a minute and waited for the show to begin. And it was glorious. The tower lit up into dazzling firecrackers. It sparkled and shone and its lights danced off the puddles of water on the ground.
Whether it was witnessing the wave of white grave stones marking only 40 percent of Americans who died for such a noble cause next to the beaches of Normandy, or standing on the edge of the water that 70 years ago was teeming with rubble of war, or standing beneath one of the most recognized pieces of architecture in the world, the day was outstanding. It could not be surpassed, and the weather was perfect.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
By Carolyn Ross
While I do not have pictures to commemorate my visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, like I do the rest of my trip, it did not make the experience any less memorable. Unlike here in the United States, there are thousands of years of history in major European cities such as London, and St. Paul’s Cathedral is just one such location filled with a history of its own. While it is true that St. Paul’s Cathedral served as a symbolism of the strength of the London people during World War II, the story of St. Paul’s Cathedral goes back hundreds of years before that.
During our guided tour of the cathedral, where photography is not permitted, we got a chance to see and hear about just part of the many stories that surround this significant location. Even though there are probably hundreds of cathedrals in London, while equally impressive histories behind them, St. Paul’s stands out among the top for Londoners and all those who come to visit the large city.
The individual aspects and stories surrounding different parts of St. Paul’s are so unique and interesting that it can be hard to believe that they are all connected to the same church. The spiral staircase used in the Harry Potter movies that leads up to Professor Trelawney’s classroom and office were modeled after the staircase in St. Paul’s that was once a private entrance for the priest.
The Admiral Horatio Nelson, famous for his service to the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, was buried beneath the church’s sanctuary, but not before his coffin was hung above his grave for several days after his death for tourists to pay money and come to visit. His final resting place is now not far from a modern café, also located on the bottom floor of the cathedral.
If you take the church’s 259 steps up to their Whispering Gallery, you not only get a closer view of the detailed painting on the church’s famous dome, but you can also whisper a message to the wall and have it clearly heard by your friend on the other side of the lower part of the dome, giving this part of the church its name.
Poking above the skyline from various vantage points in the city, it is easy to see why the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and all of the secrets within it were so important to the city of London not just during the bombings of London during World War II, but throughout the entire history of the city.