It’s funny how fast life has evolved. I was going to start this post with something like: “You know those tapes that play in your head?” Then I started thinking about my kids and grand kids and they are totally befuddled by the question. What kind of tape? How does it play? Well, to put it in contemporary vernacular, there are thoughts and voices that once thought and heard cannot be unthought and unheard. Some voices ask incredulously: “Why do you keep returning to Europe, and France in particular?”

There is the National Geographic answer; The Rick Steves answer; the Elle, Mademoiselle and Vogue answer. The justified permission behind my obsession is that both of my grandfathers left parts of their souls in combat in France and Germany. It is visiting the battlefields where pieces of themselves and hundreds of comrades are seared into the muddy trenches and craters, pristine meadows and fields of gold awaiting harvest that draws me like a moth to a flame.

This trip will be different for a change. The tolerance with which Julie, my traveling companion of thirty-five years trooped along with me is beyond measure. With little American and Texas flags in hand, she has endured somber walks through the military cemeteries of the Champagne region, placing American flags on the graves of the American Unknown and Texas flags on the graves of our Texas boys who gave their last full measure.

 

The region north of Paris is where, in 1918, my nineteen year-old maternal grandfather, Carl Andrew Brannen, fought with the 2nd Division (Indian Head), 4th Marines, 6th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 80th Company, through every battle the 2ndID participated.

His fortitude was recognized by both the French and the United States Governments. He was selected to the prestigious Pershing Honor Guard and marched through Paris, London, New York and Washington DC in the Great War’s Victory Parades.

Marines of the Great War.jpg
United States Marines preparing for World War I

The trips we have made have always started in Paris: the food, site seeing and visiting the museums never get old. I’ve never had that: “been there done that” feeling. It’s the same with New York, Boston, Venice, Florence, Stressa, Florissant, Seaside, New Orleans, Memphis, Santa Fe, Napa, Carmel, Sonoma, Mendocino, Carlton, Christchurch, Akora, Lake Wanaka, Milford Sound, Wellington, Utopia, Lufkin or Dallas. I’m adaptable that way.

From Paris we usually drive to Belleau Wood, where the Marines and other 2nd Division Army Units put up a heroic fight to stop the German final offensive to Paris. The world has forgotten that the Americans arrived just in the nick of time.

Julie at Belleau Wood.jpg
Julie with (not her idea of) a French 75 at Belleau Wood: Bois de la Brigade de Marine.

Those visits are nearly always incorporated with a swing east to Sarreguemines, where my paternal grandfather, Ross W. Vick Sr., commanded Company E of the 255th Regiment, 63rd (Blood and Fire) Division in the 7th Army assault on the German West Wall: The Seigfried Line.

1st Lt Ross Vick Sr Munich Germany 1945.jpg
1st Lt. Ross W. Vick Sr., Munich, Germany 1945. Commander, E Company 255th 63rd ID.

He lost most of his command during that assault, and his company was pulled out of line so they could refit and reorganize. His combat experience extended into Germany, through Walsenburg and ended up in Munich.

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Ross W. Vick, Jr., and Pat Vick at a German bunker on the Seigfried Line, near Ensheim Germany.

After the journey of eating, driving, drinking and soberly reminding ourselves that “freedom isn’t free” our way through some of the most vicious combat known to our country (in Europe at least), we make haste to Paris for the flight home. Recently though, we have discovered there are other regions of France. (Who knew?) (Uh, Julie knew.)

Hugues arranged for me to perform for a week in Dijon in a “Dallas – Dijon Sister City” event, inspired by Stanley Marcus’ Fortnight. Discovering Chablis and Burgundy have been some of the greatest discoveries of my wine appreciating life

Then, a couple of years ago, Mac Tichenor invited us to celebrate his birthday on bikes through the Loire Valley. A dozen friends joined Mac and Lisa on this adventure. It began with a premier view of the final day of the Tour d’France.

Ross and Julie at the Tour d'France
Ross and Julie at the Tour de France, celebrating Mac’s birthday.

Our last night was an impromptu picnic on the Loire river in the shadow of the Chateau Royal d’Amboise. We stopped traffic as a rousing rendition of American Pie echoed through the valley.  It was now okay to be in France and not visit Normandy Beach, Verdun, Blanc Mont Ridge or Sarguemmines.

All the while, Julie has been inquiring if I had ever heard of a region of France called Provence? I used to answer her question with a question: Is there an American Cemetery there? Now we are going. At least we are going to touch the south and east region of it. Of course, the only way we could afford to get there was to be hit over the head with those $380 round trip tickets from Delta and Air France from DFW to Milan. Turns out Milan is the closest major airport with non-stop service from JFK to Cannes, which is our ultimate destination for the birthday celebration of Hugues Genot. It is good to get this travel monkey off of my back.

Last minute details abound, and they are indeed tedious, but they must be done, so that at least, once air born, we can focus ahead, not behind, and perhaps those tapes playing in my head will give me a new kind of focus.

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