france

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Captain Leonard Treherne “Max” Schroeder Jr looked out over the choppy water between the landing craft he was on and the shores of their destination…the beaches of Normandy, France. The beaches had been given code names, to protect the mission…Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword; the operation was code named Overlord. The beach ahead of Schroeder had been code named Utah. Along the hills behind the beach were many German bunkers, with armed German snipers hiding inside of them. Schroeder knew they were just waiting for them to step onto the beach before the snipers would open fire.

Schroeder was about to find out firsthand, just how bad this day was going to be. In fact, he was the first American soldier whose feet hit the sand on the beach at Normandy on D-Day…so, while his men were right behind him, he would experience this horrific battle at its inception. I have wondered just how they knew that he was first amid all that chaos, but it is a documented fact. Operation Overlord was pivotal in the United States’ overall success, but it was also extremely bloody, with great loss of life. While every life lost was horrific, the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy that day were willing to give their lives for a cause that they felt was essential…and I have so much respect for each and every one of them. Captain Schroeder led his team of men onto the beach…along with thousands of others…and managed to get them to their secured location. Nevertheless, during the mission, he was shot twice by German snipers. Once the mission was accomplished and his men were where they needed to be, Captain Schroeder passed out from his injuries.

Schroeder woke up at an aid station on the beach, with medics taking care of his wounds so he could be transported to an army hospital in England. While in England, he recovered and had a lot of time to read all about his role in the successful mission…in many papers. I don’t know if he realized that his had been such a pivotal role in the battle, but it had. At the time, I doubt if he thought he would ever see that beach again, but in 1994, Schroeder revisited the beach at Normandy as a guest of the French government. It was an amazing ceremony to pay homage to his heroic efforts that helped turn the tide for the Allies in World War II. It was an honor he had given no thought to as he looked out at that beach on that long ago June 6, 1944…but, an honor that he had earned along with all the other men who fought, and the many who had died. I’m sure those who gave all, were thankful that some made it home and managed to live a long life of liberty. Captain Leonard “Max” Schroeder, who was born on July 16, 1918, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, passed away from emphysema early on the morning of May 26, 2009, in Largo, Florida at the age of 90.

Whenever a ship sinks, it takes with it a lot of gear, personal effects, and sometimes treasures. These days, they send in the submarines, or rather the mini submarines to salvage whatever they can, find out what caused the sinking, and sometimes to aid in raising the ship to the surface. In times past, when a ship went down, it could easily be lost forever, or at least until more modern times when they could finally find it again.

When the Vasa, an amazingly beautiful Swedish warship that sank on its maiden voyage, 1400 yards into its voyage sat in the harbor for years. The did manage to get the cannon from it right away, but everything else sat underwater until the 1950s, when they had a better way to salvage it. When the world’s first completely covered underwater diving suit was invented around 1715, it consisted of an airtight oak barrel. The suit was used mainly for salvage operations of shipwrecks. I wonder what they could have done with Vasa using that. Vasa wasn’t in dangerously deep water, and could have been accessed easily today, but they just didn’t have the equipment.

The cross between a diving bell and standard diving dress is rather interesting. I wonder if the barrel design John Lethbridge used in 1715 was seriously difficult to move in. It reminds me a of a comical space suit, but I guess it served its purpose. However odd it is, it was the first underwater diving suit, and it is currently located in the Cité de la Mer, a maritime museum in Cherbourg, France.

Lethbridge came up with the idea for his diving suit while working for the East India Company as a salvager. The barrel was airtight, so the diver was protected and safe. The barrel was six feet in length, and the diver had little control of it once it was lowered into the water. The diver had to lay flat on his stomach once the barrel. The barrel had two airtight holes on the sides for the diver’s hands and a hole with glass in the front for use as the diver’s viewing window. During trials, Lethbridge demonstrated that the suit enabled divers to stay 12 fathoms (a unit of length equal to six feet) underwater for at least 30 minutes at a time. That was hard for me to figure out, until I read that once the diver comes out of the water after 30 minutes, the crew pumped fresh air into the suit through a vent using bellows. At the same time, the used air was let out through another vent. Then, with the fact that the barrel was airtight, the diver was good for another 30 minutes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much further along than salvage operations had been before it. The suit, while odd and very primitive was an immediate success. It was used mostly to retrieve material from shipwrecks. During Lethbridge’s first salvage…the maiden voyage of the diving suit, as it were, Lethbridge recovered 25 chests of silver and 65 cannons! I would call that a definite success.

Many people believe that there was no good reason for the war in Vietnam. It seemed like a war we were not going to be allowed to win, and many thought it should have been one we just stayed out of. Vietnam became a French colony in 1877 with the founding of French Indochina, which included Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China and Cambodia…Laos was added in 1893. The French lost control of their colony briefly during World War II, when Japanese troops occupied Vietnam.

After the war, Japan and France continued to fight over Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, a revolutionary leader inspired by Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution began forming an independence movement. He established the League for the Independence of Vietnam, better known as the Viet Minh, in May of 1941. On September 2, 1945, he declared Vietnam’s independence from France, just hours after Japan’s surrender in World War II. When the French rejected his plan, the Viet Minh resorted to guerilla warfare to fight for an independent Vietnam.

One of the most well-known campaigns of the Vietnam War was codenamed Operation Rolling Thunder. It was an American bombing campaign in which US military aircraft attacked targets throughout North Vietnam from March 1965 to October 1968. This operation was intended to put military pressure on North Vietnam’s communist leaders, thereby reducing their capacity to wage war against the US-supported government of South Vietnam. With that, operation American began its involvement began, not only its assault on North Vietnamese territory, but the expansion of US involvement in the Vietnam War.

By the 1950s, the US military began providing equipment and advisors to help the government of South Vietnam to resist a communist takeover by North Vietnam and its South Vietnam-based allies, the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters. The American military initiated limited air operations within South Vietnam in 1962, in an effort to offer air support to South Vietnamese army forces, destroy suspected Viet Cong bases, and spray herbicides such as Agent Orange to eliminate jungle cover. It was an ugly time for anyone in the area. In August 1964, President Lyndon B Johnson expanded American air operations, when he authorized retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam following a reported attack on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Later that year, Johnson approved limited bombing raids on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of pathways that connected North Vietnam and South Vietnam by way of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The president’s goal was to disrupt the flow of manpower and supplies from North Vietnam to its Viet Cong allies. Nothing the United States tried really worked to remove the tensions in the area, and so in 1963, the United States withdrew from Vietnam. Unfortunately, they left behind bombs and land mines from Operation Rolling Thunder and other bombing campaigns of the Vietnam War. By some estimates, those bombs and land mines have killed or injured tens of thousands of Vietnamese people since the United States withdrew its combat troops in 1973.

In the late 1600s, Britain and France both owned property in North America, and they were prone to periodic attacks on the colonies belonging to the other. On December 10, 1690, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony launched an ill-fated attack on Quebec, the result was a near-mutiny that forced the Massachusetts Bay Colony to issue the first paper currency in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Sometimes, these “little skirmishes” put the governments in a position of a cash flow problem. They sometimes had to resort to IOUs to pay the men. In 1690, during one such war, Governor William Phips of Britain’s Massachusetts Bay Colony made a promise to his men that he could not keep. Phips was just back from a successful invasion of the French colony of Acadia. When it went so well, he decided to raid Quebec City. For their participation, Phips promised his volunteer troops half the loot. This loot was to be in addition to their usual pay. In those days, the soldiers were usually paid in coins, but sometimes shortages of official currency in the colonies forced armies to temporarily issue IOUs. Sometimes, even that was difficult, for lack of paper, so in one case, the men were actually paid with cut-up playing cards. The troops were then allowed to exchange the playing cards for goods and services until they received their actual pay.

As to Phips…he found himself with a rather large dilemma, because while he made a grand promise, the raid was a failure, when he didn’t manage to take the city. He was forced to return to Massachusetts with a damaged fleet and no treasure. With a shortage of coins and nothing else to pay the troops with, Phips faced a potential mutiny. So…out of options, on December 10th, 1690, the General Court of Massachusetts ordered the printing of a limited amount of government-backed, paper currency to pay the soldiers. It was the first such printing of paper money in North America. A few months later, with tax season approaching, a law was passed removing the limit on how much currency could be printed, calling for the immediate printing of more, and permitting the use of paper currency for the payment of taxes, which seems odd considering it had no value.

People didn’t trust the paper currency, making it unpopular for anything except paying taxes and before long, it was phased out. Nevertheless, within a few years, paper currency returned to Massachusetts. The Bank of England began issuing banknotes in 1695, also to pay for war against the French, and they became increasingly common throughout the 18th Century. Paper money has continued to cause controversy throughout the early history of the United States, and in many cases, remains so to this day. It was tied to the value of gold for a surprisingly long time, but in 1973 President Richard Nixon officially ended the international convertibility of the US dollar into gold. The printing of paper currency has always been a bit of a shady venture, because it is almost always done without the backing of gold. Without gold to back up the value of the paper currency, the economy is in danger.

A strange thought, indeed, but Posthumous Marriage is not illegal in France…at least not since the Malpasset Dam disaster of December 2, 1959. While most of us would consider Posthumous Marriage to be a rather morbid idea, there are a couple of reasons that are considered legitimate reasons for the request for such a marriage to be granted. One such reason is, of course, a matter of deep emotional feelings for the lost fiancé. Another reason is to legitimize any children the couple already had, prior to the marriage…which I guess I can see, to a degree. There are rules that must be followed in order to have such a marriage approved…no matter what the reasons. The living partner must ask the deceased partner’s family for permission, and the invitations to the wedding must have already been sent out (showing intent from both members of the couple). The family can choose to allow, or not to allow the marriage, and if they do not agree, it is over. If family approval is given, the living partner must go before a judge to get legal permission to “marry” the deceased partner…who is usually represented at the service with a photograph. And…there are things that do not come with the marriage, such as any of the deceased partner’s property or money. In all reality, it is simply a symbolic event declaring their love for their partner. Nothing more!!

So how did such a strange idea get started in the first place. On December 2, 1959, the Malpasset Dam, an arch dam on the Reyran River, which is located approximately 4 miles north of Fréjus on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur), Southern France, in the Var department collapsed, killing 423 people in the resulting flood. Signs of an imminent collapse began in November 1959, when a “trickle of clear water observed high on the right [side]” and then cracks noticed later in the month in the concrete apron at the dam toe. The dam was breached at 9:13pm on December 2, 1959. The break was partially due to rainfall and thus the rising level of water. By noon that day, the reservoir had reached its maximum level, and the guardian André Ferro asked for permission to release the excess water, but was denied the ability to do so until 6:00pm of that day. By then, the amount of water was so high that it took three hours to release only a few centimeters of water. The entire wall then collapsed leaving only a few blocks on the right bank. Pieces of the dam are still scattered throughout the area to this day. The damage amounted to an equivalent total of 68 million US dollars.

Apparently, there were so many women who lost their fiancés, that the event also ushered in the practice of posthumous marriage in France. It’s hard for me to imagine that out of 423 people, there were enough fiancés to warrant the need for a new law. I could assume that at least some of those couples were…dating yes, but not planning their weddings. Remember, that the invitations had to have been sent out, so there were a lot of couples in varying stages of wedding planning. Still, posthumous marriage is a very strange idea.

On this day, August 21, 1911, an amateur painter decided to paint a painting near Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Mona Lisa, only to find out that someone had walked into the Louvre that morning, taken the priceless painting off the wall, hidden it under his clothing, and walked out of the museum. The first thought is, of course, who would be so brazen, but my second thought is how could he have pulled that off? How much clothing would it take to simply “tuck” a 20 inch by 30 inch painting into his clothing. Nevertheless, earlier that day, Vincenzo Perugia had walked into the Louvre, removed the famed painting from the wall, hid it beneath his clothes, and escaped.

The theft, somehow carried out in complete secrecy, left the entire nation of France is shock. There were many theories as to what could have happened to the priceless painting. Strangely, professional thieves were not on the list of suspects, because they would have realized that it would be too dangerous to try to sell the world’s most famous painting. I suppose that a private art collector might have hired a professional to steal it for a secret collection, but that didn’t seem to be the case. One theory, or rumor really, in Paris was that the Germans had stolen it to humiliate the French. I’m not sure that made any sense before either of the world wars, but I guess tensions between the nations could have been on the rise then.

For two years, investigators and detectives searched for the painting without finding any real leads. Then in November 1913, the thief mad his first move…the one that would eventually bring his doom. Italian art dealer Alfredo Geri received a letter from a man calling himself Leonardo. It indicated that the Mona Lisa was in Florence and would be returned for a hefty ransom. Why he waited two years to ask for a ransom is beyond me, other than the fear of getting caught. The meet was set to pay the ransom, and when Perugia attempted to receive the ransom, he was captured. The painting was recovered, unharmed.

In a way, you could say that this was an inside job. Perugia knew his way around, and knew areas where the Louvre might be vulnerable. Perugia, a former employee of the Louvre, claimed that he had acted out of a patriotic duty to avenge Italy on behalf of Napoleon. That claim was disproven when prior robbery convictions and Perugia’s diary, with a list of art collectors, caused most people to believe that he had acted solely out of greed. Perugia served seven months of a one-year sentence and later served in the Italian army during the First World War. The Mona Lisa is back in the Louvre, where improved security measures are now in place to protect it. I guess that one good thing came of the theft…better security. Of course, that might have come with technological advances anyway.

For many years, I thought my Spencer line came from England, but some things didn’t quite add up. When I started seeing DeSpencer and Le DeSpencer, I suspected that we might have immigrated to England from France, which my DNA proved to be correct. I’m more French than English. Nevertheless, for centuries, my Spencer ancestors did live in England, married English people, and so the line blended into more English blood in the current Spencers.

One Hugh le DeSpencer, who was the 1st Baron le DeSpencer, whose connection to me, while most assuredly there, would have to be researched to determine the level of cousinship, or whatever other relationship it is; was an important ally of Simon de Montfort during the reign of Henry III. He served briefly as Justiciar of England in 1260. In the “Middle Ages in England and Scotland the Chief Justiciar was roughly equivalent to a modern Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as the monarch’s chief minister.” Baron le DeSpencer also served as Constable of the Tower of London. “The Constable of the Tower is the most senior appointment at the Tower of London. In the Middle Ages a constable was the person in charge of a castle when the owner…the king or a nobleman…was not in residence. The Constable of the Tower had a unique importance as the person in charge of the principal fortress defending the capital city of England.”

As chief justiciar of England, Hugh Le DeSpencer, first played an important part in 1258, when he was prominent on the baronial side in the Mad Parliament of Oxford, so called because they apparently argued a lot… and because of a possible misspelling of the word insigne as insane in whatever this says…”Hoc anno fuit illud insane parliamentum apud Oxoniam.” In 1260 the barons chose Le DeSpencer to succeed Hugh Bigod as Justiciar, and in 1263 the king was further compelled to put the Tower of London in his hands. He was the son of Hugh le DeSpencer I, born in about 1223 and was summoned to Parliament by Simon de Montfort. Hugh was summoned as Lord DeSpencer on December 14, 1264 and was Chief Justiciar of England and a leader of the baronial party, and so might be deemed a baron, although that may not have been completely legal.

He remained allied with Montfort to the end, and was present at the Battle of Lewes. He was killed fighting on de Montfort’s side at the Battle of Evesham in August 4, 1265. He was slain by Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Wigmore. That killing caused a feud to begin between the DeSpencer and the Mortimer families.

Henri Honoré Giraud was a French general and a leader of the Free French Forces during the Second World War until he was forced to retire in 1944. Giraud was born on January 18, 1879 the son of Louis and Jeanne (née Deguignand) Giraud. His father was a coal merchant. Born to an Alsatian family in Paris, Giraud graduated from the Saint-Cyr military academy and served in French North Africa. During World War I, Giraud was wounded and captured by the Germans, but managed to escape from his prisoner-of-war camp. It was the first time he escaped, but not the last. After World War I ended, Giraud returned to North Africa and fought in the Rif War. During that war, he was awarded the Légion d’honneur. The Légion d’honneur (or Legion of Honour) is the highest French order of merit, both military and civil. It was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, and it has been retained by all later French governments and régimes.

When World War II began, Giraud was a member of the Superior War Council. He strongly disagreed with Charles de Gaulle about the tactics of using armored troops that were planned. Giraud was made the commander of the 7th Army when it was sent to the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. He was able to delay German troops at Breda on May 13th. The badly depleted 7th Army was then merged with the 9th Army. While the troops were trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes, Giraud was at the front with a reconnaissance patrol when he was captured by German troops at Wassigny on May19th. A German court-martial tried Giraud for ordering the execution of two German saboteurs wearing civilian clothes, but he was acquitted and taken to Königstein Castle near Dresden, which was used as a high-security POW prison. He would be held there for two years.

Not one to just sit around, Giraud began carefully planning his escape. He learned German and memorized a map of the area. He painstakingly made a 150 feet rope out of twine, torn bedsheets, and copper wire, which friends had smuggled into the prison for him. Using a simple code embedded in his letters home, he informed his family of his plans to escape. I doubt if they were surprised, as it would not be the first time he escaped his captors. Finally on April 17, 1942, he was ready. Königstein Castle was built on a hilltop, with steep cliff on one side. After shaving off his moustache and covering his head with a Tyrolean hat to disguise himself, Giraud lowered himself down the cliff of the mountain fortress. He discretely travelled to Schandau where he met his Special Operations Executive (SOE) contact, who provided him with a change of clothes, cash, and identity papers. Thus began the series of tactics designed to get Giraud to the Swiss border by train. By now, the border guards had been informed of his escape and were on the alert for him. Giraud walked through the mountains until he was stopped by two Swiss soldiers, who took him to Basel. Eventually, he was able to slip into Vichy France, where he was finally able to make his identity known. He tried unsuccessfully to convince Marshal Pétain that Germany would lose, and that France must resist the German occupation. His views were rejected, but at least the Vichy government refused to return Giraud to the Germans. Returning him would have been a death sentence, because Hitler had ordered Giraud’s assassination upon being caught. Giraud went to North Africa via a British submarine, and joined the French Free Forces under General Charles de Gaulle. He eventually helped to rebuild the French army.

In January 1943, Giraud took part in the Casablanca Conference along with Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D Roosevelt. Later in the same year, Giraud and de Gaulle became co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation, but Giraud lost support and retired in frustration in April 1944. After the war, Giraud was elected to the Constituent Assembly of the French Fourth Republic. He remained a member of the War Council and was decorated for his escape. He published two books, “Mes Evasions” (My Escapes, 1946) and “Un seul but, la victoire”: Alger 1942–1944 (A Single Goal, Victory: Algiers 1942–1944, 1949) about his experiences. He died in Dijon on March 11, 1949.

I have been to and inside the Statue of Liberty, and it is a place I’ll never forget. I was a teenager at the time, but I can still vividly picture the inside, as well as the outside. I think the thing that most stuck in my head is that to go up into the statue was a rather tight corridor. The arm was closed when we were there, but we didn’t really know why. For a time, especially after 9-11, no one was allowed to go into the Statue of Liberty at all, for fear of another terrorist attack.

Prior to the 9-11 concerns, the Statue of Liberty was examined by French and American engineers for structural stability in 1982, as part of the planning for its centennial in 1986. Following the examination, it was announced that the statue was in need of considerable restoration. Careful examination had revealed that the right arm had been improperly attached to the main structure. It was swaying more and more when strong winds blew and there was a significant risk of structural failure. This is information that I’m thankful I didn’t have when I went up into the statue in 1973. I recall being disappointed that we couldn’t go up in the arm then, but apparently they knew of the issues even then. Of further concern, the head had been installed 2 feet off center, and one of the rays was wearing a hole in the right arm when the statue moved in the wind. All the problems warranted the repairs done in 1984. She also got a nose job and her arm was shifted slightly to a better position. This information, though not well know, was really bad news, when you think about it. The statue had been standing in this place for 96 years by the time these flaws were discovered. Imagine what could have happened, especially with the arm improperly installed. The armature structure was badly corroded, and about two percent of the exterior plates needed to be replaced. Although problems with the armature had been recognized as early as 1936, when cast iron replacements for some of the bars had been installed, much of the corrosion had been hidden by layers of paint applied over the years. The whole statue was literally a ticking time bomb. Following the repairs, the statue would be much safer and could again be used, but that was not the end of her secrets.

Most people think that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the nation of France, and while it did come from France, it was actually partly a gift from the manufacturer in France (not the French nation). on top of that, Americans had to pay for the pedestal and partly contributed to the cost of the statue itself. Fundraisers were held in Boston and Philadelphia, in order to win the right to have the statue, but in the end, it went to New York. I’m sure many people who helped with the fundraising were very disappointed. This was another secret of the Statue of Liberty that I did not know.

When we think of Paris, the first thing that comes to mind is the Eiffel Tower. If history had been different, those of us alive today would most likely be completely unaware of the historical icon. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, and since that time, over 200,000,000 people have visited it, which makes the Eiffel Tower the most visited monument in the world. The Eiffel Tower was erected for the Paris Exposition, and was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales, who went on to become King Edward VII. The tower was the entrance arch to exposition, and was the most visited site during the Exposition. As they were preparing for the Exposition, seven hundred proposals were submitted in a design competition. In the end, it was the radical design of French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel that was unanimously chosen. Eiffel was assisted in the design by two engineers, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nougier, and architect Stephen Sauvestre.

Believe it or not, there was some controversy over the winning design. The Paris city government actually received a petition, signed by about 300 people in a effort to prevent the city government from constructing the tower. Some famous personalities like Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola, and Charles Garnier also signed the petition. They felt that the Eiffel Tower would be useless and monstrous, and it endangered French art and history. Wow!! Today, they would be stunned at the beauty it posses, especially when it is lit up at night.

Of course, the tower was ultimately built and it was given out for a 20-year lease. When the lease expired in 1909, it was planned to tear down the iconic tower. In the end, it was its antenna that saved the tower, as it was used for telegraphy. The tower also played an important role in capturing the infamous spy Mata Hari during World War I. Following these events, the tower gained acceptance among the French. As 1910 arrived, the Eiffel Tower became a part of the International Time Service and the French Radio has been using the tower since 1918. The French Television started using the height of the tower from 1957. I don’t really know if most of us knew about all the other uses for the Eiffel Tower, other than the tourist attraction most of us connect with it.

Today this fantastic structure of iron and rivets is iconic symbol of Paris and people from all over the world come to Paris just to marvel at this man-made wonder. The stunning photographs that have been taken from all angles, and the romantic appeal for so many couples of all ages and nationalities have worked together to make the Eiffel Tower famous.

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