Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Those red arrows on the Highway 32 markers

In 100 Years of Gratitude, in The New York Times this past Sunday, Richard Rubin recounts a recent trip to France to search for historic sites from the First World War. A local man took it upon himself to serve as a guide.
"Soon he was telling me about something else and asking, yet again: “Want to see?” We spent nearly five hours together that afternoon, driving across fields and through little villages where this or that had happened in the fall of 1918, until we ended up on a rugged dirt trail atop a wooded ridge. A few yards below on either side were more networks of German trenches, some trailing off to pits that had once held machine-gun emplacements or howitzers. This was the Côte Dame Marie, high ground of paramount strategic importance to the Germans. For four years, they had used it to repel French assaults and thus retain possession of a large chunk of the Argonne Forest, the key to controlling a vast area. Then, in October 1918, the American 32nd Division, National Guard troops from Wisconsin and Michigan, managed to wrest it away from them, at the cost of many American lives.

"My host, Jean-Pierre Brouillon, beckoned me over and gestured down the hill through a section where the trees weren’t too dense so I could see the grade of the slope, which looked to be around 60 degrees. He pointed at the foot of the hill, a few hundred yards below. “They came up from down there, into machine guns, rifles, artillery, everything,” he said, and looked at me with an expression that said: Can you believe that?

" 'The French didn’t drive the Germans out of here,' he declared, visibly moved. 'The English didn’t do it.' He shook his head at the thought of what it must have taken to charge those heights. 'Just the Americans,' he said. 'Only the Americans could do it.'

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