Return to Normandy. Colonel John J. Wessmiller's Story

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 7.20.29 AMThrough my podcast, Screen Thoughts, in which Emily O’Toole and I (using the alias, Justine Hollister) talk about all things on the screen, I was invited to a rough cut screening of Return to Normandy, a short film about Colonel John J. Wessmiller’s return to Normandy, more than seventy years after he landed there on D-Day. You all remember D-Day—we learned about it in high school. We learned the date when it took place, that it was a surprise, that lots of men died, and that it was the beginning of the end for the Germans because the Allies had no intention of turning back.

I haven’t ever thought much about D-Day. Then there was the 70th anniversary, and Obama and some other world leaders celebrated our might yet again and that was the end of that. Not so fast.

Colonel Wessmiller didn’t get to go to Normandy on the anniversary. Team Wessmiller was told that The White House chose someone local to go after stringing him along for quite some time. They ‘chose’ someone else? I have not yet uncovered the underbelly of that part of the story, but I assure you I’m not done trying. There are five men still alive who were there that day. Five. I have to move on now to the good part of this tale because I’m just not sure what to do about the injustice of “no room at the anniversary inn” for the Colonel, who was actually there.

The Colonel’s war story is not really that unusual, I would guess. He lost a lot of men and friends when they turned a corner and mistakenly headed east instead of north and ran into the German army – literally. He dove into the bushes and then crawled through the window of a small cottage, where he stole a bicycle with two flat tires to ride to get help. He was the sole survivor of his group of warriors that day, and 70+ years later he carefully crafted a list of their names to pay tribute at the cemetery in Normandy (which looks remarkably like Arlington). But to watch his telling of it, and to see his determination to go back and pay tribute to it all, is a gift that keeps giving. This short film must be seen by all. It’s about compassion, commitment, and courage. You remember compassion, commitment, and courage. They used to be three tenets of our great nation. The Colonel reminds us all of what we ought to be to the world, and I for one want him around telling it for years to come. His grandson’s film will ensure that he is.

Forty years after the war ended, Colonel Wessmiller sent a new bike to replace the one he’d stolen, and now thirty years later still, everyone in the theater watched on the screen as the man whose bike he’d stolen thanked him for being an American, and for coming across the pond to save another nation because it was the right thing to do. Then the granddaughter of that Frenchman kissed the Colonel, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Money had been raised, and the Colonel made the trip back to Normandy to pay tribute to the fallen and to be thanked by those who tell him, “but for you we would be Germans!”

My husband, H2 (Husband #2), is French. He and his family escaped to America through Portugal after the Nazi’s invaded. He was lucky—they were Jewish, and the end would not have been good for him. He took me to Normandy on one of our monthly trips to France, and I walked the beach on which the Colonel had stood. But now I was seeing it through new eyes, and I really understood better. It made me wish I’d stood with a straighter spine when I looked out over it twenty years ago. That stretch of beach will forever mark that time in the world’s history when thousands of men ran into harm’s way because they were asked to. Each soft wave whispers “thank you” forevermore.

I have so many questions for the Colonel, and it appears I may actually get to ask them, as we’ve invited him to join our podcast about his film and his remarkable history. Lucky, lucky me. I want to ask him why he and his band of brothers didn’t seem to suffer when they returned home the way in the way that our men now do? Did they just keep it in? What is the difference? I want to ask him what he would say now to those friends he lost that day, about the life he lived after they were gone. I’d like to ask him about his thoughts on the trip over to Omaha Beach in the boat the night before D-Day. Mostly though, I just want to thank him for his service.

Five men remaining. Don’t we need to make sure we hear from all them of them before they join the rest of their brethren? Each and every one of them.

Kayla Mueller

Kayla-Mueller-and-_3194506b

There are those that travel parallel roads to ours that show us another way – a singular lifetime dedication toward helping others. Kayla Mueller was one of those people. When I read her letter to her family, I realized I’d heard the sentiment before. Anne Frank wrote much of the same.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation

Continue reading…

Brian Williams & You & Me

imgres-1

I really like Brian Williams. He’s very cute. His daughter, Allison, reminds me of my fabulous daughter about whom I’m not allowed to blog. He’s very funny. I especially like him on David Lettermen. The two of them combined are like what you want your dad to be. When I heard last week about his demise – his fall from grace surrounding his exaggeration of his exposure to danger in the middle east – I

Continue reading…

Me & My NStar Posse in The Hilton Lobby During the Storm of 2015

January 27, 2015. Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

NSTARIMG_2694 (Click to watch the video of my posse.)

I’m a smart girl. I live on Cape Cod mostly, and when a snowstorm comes in, I can pretty much count on no electricity … sometimes for days. I’m also a glass-half-full girl, but in this case, the water in the glass freezes fast and I’m stuck, so I hedge my bets. I found out that the NStar guys (those

Continue reading…

Movies, TV, and Me

ScreenThoughtsLogo160h

Hello loyal Freesia Lane followers….

It’s me, terrified Christine.

I love movies. I love t.v. (or some of it), and I have really smart friends. One friend, in particular, is an award-winning documentarian, and she and I get going on movies and t.v. and the end game is me leaving with my head spinning. I love it.

Long story short, when we were at dinner with a third friend (yes, I do have more than

Continue reading…

Voices in Our Heads

imgres-4

I was sitting at Starbucks, biding my time waiting to pick up a friend to drive back to the Hamptons from New York City. A man and his ten-year-old son came in. The son was eye-catching, with large, inquisitive eyes and a big smile, and he was asking his father a lot of questions.

“Dad, if you wake up on a sleepover date and they say they are having eggs and toast for breakfast, and

Continue reading…

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places

I am not a God Girl by nature. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I have turned to God when planes are bouncing in the air — air that has no business carrying them — and as many others do, I have that conversation in my mind about what I am willing to do if God just gets me to the ground safely. So far, he’s kept his end of the bargain. And me? I have

Continue reading…

The Judge Movie Review

I have a really smart friend who we shall call Rebecca. She and I attend film festivals together, meet monthly to discuss films, writing, T.V. and life. She is way smarter than me, but I’m pretty sure she tolerates me because of my sharp tongue and quick wit. Anyway, I texted her as soon as I left The Judge last weekend and told her it was one of the best films of the year and

Continue reading…

Gone Girl Movie Review

Am I the only one? Gone Girl just didn’t work for me, although I will give it a great casting award. Overall though, it’s not the Academy Award nominee they are speaking about. Sometimes more is just more, not better, and this movie contains too many twists and turns, too many scenes, and too many flawed characters to have it come together like the symphony it could have been. Editing. It’s always in the editing.

Continue reading…

My New Hip Henry

I got a new hip.

It’s my left hip. I have named him Henry because he’s not really part of me and needs to have his own name. I’m not sure why he’s a guy when I am a girl, but it was the first name that came to me, and that’s the end of that. He’s Henry. No one can accuse me of being Lean In sensitive. I’m gender neutral as are all fake

Continue reading…