NORMANDY, France, June 6, 2014 — When the eyes of the world turn toward Normandy, France today for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, it will represent a time of transition unlike any the world has ever seen. It will mark the final opportunity for people who know World War II only from history books to honor the few remaining living survivors who preserved the freedoms and liberties we so frequently take for granted today.
Visitors from all over the globe will gather at those hallowed sites to personally say “Thank you” one final time, and we will be there. (See below to learn how you can participate)
Normandy is a land of vignettes; little stories of the lives of every day people who found themselves thrust into the path of history. There are thousands of inspirational tales of individuals who played a role, sometimes small and sometimes not so small, in the course of human events that altered the tide of history.
Brigitte de Kergorlay was one such person who was peering from a third floor window of her chateau home when German soldiers marched across the family property and confiscated it for four long years. Brigitte was only 19 when her family was relegated to the far corners of the castle while the Germans utilized most of the building as a headquarters.
Though fluent in German, Brigitte’s father refused to communicate with his captors, so she was left to act as the intermediary.
When news of the D-Day invasion spread across Normandy in 1944, the Germans made a hasty retreat. During the commotion, the Kergorlays also fled their beloved chateau to ride out the uncertainty of the assault.
When Brigitte eventually returned to her home, she was appalled at its condition. Though it was not structurally damaged and the family heirlooms were intact, the massive disarray and filth from the frantic last minute departure had taken its toll.
Outside on the massive lawn facing the chateau, American soldiers pitched their tents, refusing to accommodate themselves inside Brigitte’s home.
Soon after her return, Brigitte was greeted at the door by an American soldier who issued a personal invitation to attend a dinner with the general and his troops. Unbeknownst to the young Kergorlay woman, the American soldiers had learned it was her birthday.
In honor of her special event, Brigitte was given a huge one square meter birthday cake. And the general who presided over the party was none other than Omar Bradley himself.
In later years, Brigitte described it as the “greatest birthday in my life.” Brigitte died in the early part of the new century, but she represents, like so many others, Normandy’s past that is rapidly fading from the living into memories.
In December of last year, Helen Kogel Denton was buried at the age of 91 with a secret she had kept from her husband and son that she took to the grave. Kogel had been sworn to secrecy in 1944 and her greatest dying regret was that she never revealed her story to the loved ones who preceded her in death.
During the war, Kogel was a secretary on Gen. Eisenhoer’s staff for nearly a year. As a corporal in the Army she was accustomed to regularly typing TOP SECRET orders. Secrets she could never tell anyone.
One day after typing a set of special papers in late April, one of Kogel’s colleagues invited her to go with them to deliver the pages to the general. Naturally, Kogel was honored to have the privilege of meeting General Eisenhower in person.
Upon her encounter and delivery, the general asked Kogel, “Corporal, do you know what you’ve typed?”
The 23-year old corporal replied, “Yes, sir. These are the battle plans that you will use for the invasion of France.”
Thus, a young WAC from a small town in South Dakota knew all there was to know about the greatest amphibious military invasion in history including the number of ships, planes, troops and deployment areas.
Kogel was privy to all the logistics of Operation Overlord, where the strategic bridges and landing strips were located and every other intimate detail of the assault except one, the date.
Even after the war, Kogel remained silent, not even telling her story to her beloved husband and son.
Another WWII Normandy vignette; a vintage episode about an unknown woman who played a dramatic role in events that shaped our history. Helen Kogel is gone now. We are no longer able to speak with her or to hear her personally tell her dramatic story.
These are the stories that make June 6, 1944 so unique and so important.
It will be a celebration that is truly once-in-a-lifetime.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com). His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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