A Bit of America in France

As some of you may know, a couple weeks ago, I was in France, “touring” with my daughter, who’s part of the Kettering Childrens Choir.

In some ways, the trip was disappointing, as the kids’ performance and rehearsal schedule prevented us from doing many of the things one goes to France for. We didn’t have time to see the Louvre, and while some went to Versailles, they only got to spend a couple hours there. I’d been to France before, with a group in high school, so I’d seen the big attractions.

However, we did see some that I did not see when I was there before. One of those was Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery.

They did not disappoint. The travel agent told us beforehand that many of us would find it a moving experience, and she was right.

We went to Omaha Beach first, and the sight of the memorial statue where the Allied forces first landed to retake Europe from the Nazis in 1944 was breathtaking. There was something about those giant, curved wedges rising from the sand in a stark, otherwise empty beach that struck me like a punch in the gut. Although it was late June, the beach was windy as hell (probably 50mph gusts), overcast, and chilly – probably under 60 degrees. Our tour group was set up to have a picnic lunch there, but it’s hard to eat when sand’s blowing in your food and eyes. I can’t imagine what the Allied soldiers went through when they landed there, battling not only weather much worse than what we experienced, but also the threat of the Germans.

Afterward, we went to the cemetery. The size of it is staggering, and really made it hit home when we learned that almost 10,000 soldiers are buried there, plus a few support staff – including four women. Then, considering that only a fraction of the dead were buried there – many families elected to have their loved ones’ bodies sent home – and that this was only the Americans, the immense sacrifice was even more mind-boggling.

But what struck me the most was this: The French have not forgotten U.S., U.K., Canada, and other Allied forces did for Europe almost 70 years ago. After the war was over, they worked with the U.S. military to return the bodies of the Americans whose families requested it; and for those whose families decided it was more fitting that their remains stay where they’d fallen, they built the American Cemetery. Other Allied solders were buried in commonwealth cemeteries throughout the area, the answer to a very good question my daughter asked. But the French understood the importance our culture places on honoring our military, and made a special place to honor them. Today, it’s as immaculately maintained as any VA cemetery on U.S. soil, and attracts millions of visitors every year.

After our tour of the grounds, the choir performed in front of the Garden of the Missing (about 1500 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered). It was touching to see the crowds that gathered to watch them, especially the WWII vet who had tears in his eyes by the time the kids finished.


We may not have had the chance to go up in the Eiffel Tower, or see the Mona Lisa. But that windy day in Normandy, I think we saw something even more important and worthwhile. If you ever have the chance to visit northern France, I highly recommend the American Cemetery and museum.

Have you been to Omaha Beach or the American Cemetery in France, or something similar elsewhere? Whatever your nationality, what did you think? Oh, and happy belated Fourth of July!

Here’s a two-minute video about the Cemetery, if you’re interested:

My Town Monday: Haunted Aircraft at the USAF Museum

The first time I heard about hauntings at Wright Patterson Air Force Base was several years ago, when I heard that The Atlantic Paranormal Society was coming to film an episode of Ghost Hunters. Supposedly, a couple of office and storage buildings on base are haunted, as well as the Hap Arnold House.

What I learned more recently, is that there’s a much more haunted place on base: the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

It shouldn’t be any surprise, considering how much death is associated with some of these aircraft and artifacts.

The Black Mariah

The more recent hauntings are from the Vietnam war, both of which were involved in rescue/medical evacuation missions. The Black Mariah is a Sikorsky CH-3E amphibious transport helicopter that saw many highly classified runs. The Black Mariah is riddled with bullet holes. Supposedly, many soldiers died aboard the Black Mariah, and their voices and moans can still be heard where it sits in the museum today. (Note: according to its Fact Sheet dated 12/2010, the Black Mariah is undergoing restoration and can only be seen as part of the museum’s Behind the Scenes tour.)


The Hopalong, at the National Museum of the USAF

The Hopalong is a Sikorsky UH-19B Chickasaw that served as a medevac chopper in both the Vietnam war and in Korea. It’s also home to an apparition of its last pilot, who the museum’s night staff claim they sometimes see in the pilot’s seat, flipping switches and trying to steer the craft to safety. The seat is still stained with the pilot’s blood.

Bockscar, shown when it was delivered to the USAF Museum in 1961, with a group of its original crew. The nose art was added after the Nagasaki mission.

One of the museum’s more dramatic exhibits is the Bockscar, “the aircraft that ended WWII.” Named after its pilot, Frederick C. Bock, this Boeing B-29 bomber dropped the “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, which led to Japan’s surrender. Supposedly, people have seen the ghost of a young Japanese boy near the plane at night.

The ill-fated crew of the Lady Be Good

The Lady Be Good was a B-24D that disappeared after departing for a bombing mission over Italy on April 4, 1943. The other 24 bombers sent to Naples that day returned safely. But the Lady Be Good wasn’t found until sixteen years later, after a group of British archaeologists spotted wreckage while flying over the Libyan desert. After an intensive search of the area, remains of eight crew members were recovered, one of whom had trekked over 100 miles from the wreckage. The ninth crew member was never found. The aircraft was recovered in pieces, many of its instruments and equipment still in usable condition. Some of these parts were installed in other aircraft. According to the Lady Be Good fact sheet, a C-54 with autosyn transmitters from the Lady experienced propeller trouble; it managed to land safely only by ditching cargo. A C-47 with a radio receiver from the Lady had to be abandoned in the Mediterranean. An Army “Otter” plane got an armrest from the Lady Be Good, then crashed in the Gulf of Sidra. None of the ten men aboard were ever found. Some parts were, however – including the armrest. Now housed in the museum, the parts inexplicably rearrange themselves.

The Strawberry Bitch

Another WWII-era B24D, the Strawberry Bitch is one of the museum’s more popular attractions. With a range of over 2,800 miles laden with 5,000 lbs. bomb load, the B24 was well-suited for longer range missions like the raid on the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, which were estimated to supply 60 percent of Germany’s crude oil. Visitors and museum staff have reported hearing rattles and clanks from the undercage where the gunner sat, and some even claim to have seen a shadowy figure inside. Others say they’ve seen strange lights inside the aircraft. Whatever its/their nature, the spirit(s) haunting the Strawberry Bitch are the only ones said to be violent: a former janitor from the museum claims one slapped him in the face once. Who knows, maybe he made a comment about the plane’s pinup girl nose art. 😀

Prisoners of War exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

There’s one exhibit at the museum that isn’t an aircraft, but evokes a sense of dread and unease in more people than any other: the POW exhibit. With my skeptical nature, I’d be more inclined to believe this is simply due to knowing the horrible experiences suffered by our prisoners of war, rather than any paranormal activity. Still, it makes one wonder!

I have to admit, I didn’t see or hear any evidence of ghostly activity when I visited the museum. If you’ve been there, did you? Do you know of any haunted museums in your home town?

More at the My Town Monday blog