11. déc., 2020

Red Beret Dark Chocolate


This week, Time Magazine brand new cover calls 2020 "the worst year ever," No comment. The US has short-term memory! Yes the concept of time is totally different from most other countries, still... it is insulting.
This December 3rd marked the 1st anniversary of 6th Airborne veteran Daniel F Lyons' death.
This short documentary by Clément Horvath pays homage to the heroic 6th Airborne paratrooper who spearheaded D-Day.
I had heard about my family's first-hand experience of D-Day my entire life. They are from Ranville, the 1st village liberated during the night of June 6th 1944.
On Monday, June 5th 1944, two of my uncles were diving off Pegasus bridge, barely half a mile from their house, through the shortcut of the Bois de la Chasse woods, observing German soldiers practicing crossing the Orne River with inflatable canoes, and later that afternoon, watching them in their usual activities such as shooting with real ammunitions in the quarry less than 200 meters away from their tiny cottage where my grand-parents are trying to raise a growing family of 8 children during the German occupation. These past years had added increased burden on their daily lives, food was scarce, making soup out of stinging nettles a necessity, food stamps with ever decreasing portions the norm -- proportionate to the increasing number of very young-starving German soldiers based in the Ranville area, with Rommel visiting because Hitler decided to crank up the German forces in Normandy for fear of an imminent invasion, all of this resulting into an almost equal enemy population next to the civilians vying for staple food everyday. In the wake of D-Day, my grand-father and uncles “buried a few 6th Airbornes” and made the white wooden crosses of the temporary graves there.
When I finished shooting a 4 hour-long family documentary back in June 2017, to gather my aunts and uncles memories about their war and D-Day, it dawned on me that I had never really tried to google some key words to check out whether something would pop up from that memorable night when 8 or 9 6th Airborne paratroopers bursted into my family's tiny home at Bourg-Neuf in Ranville "around midnight" with a wounded soldier who had badly injured his foot upon landing during the jump. He was laid on the two-meter long farm table where my grand-mother administered first aid with makeshift bandage while my uncles gave him water...
Decades of June 6th commemorations never turned successful to bring back those heroes, the first decades, my mom actively attended D-Day as a school pupil first honoring their liberators, but the veterans were too traumatized and trying to start normal lives overseas and did not come back. I remember seeing General Montgomery in the late 60’s, Prince Charles, Bill Millin crossing the bridge playing his bagpipes. Some of my relatives watched the shooting of the Longest Day and its clichés and inaccuracies. 
Only in the last 25 years did we start seeing veterans come back "en masse" with their families... On the 50th anniversary, I participated in interviewing and hosting some of them in my classes while teaching in Cherbourg.
Time had passed and their grand-children wanted to learn and see where it all happened. My family never met a single of the 8 6th Airborne veteran who were present that night in their house. They had somewhat given up on the hope of identifying the wounded soldier... the only name they had was Jack Watson, the platoon commander whose name was given during that night. Feeling the urge to talk about "it" as this generation is alas vanishing, it was high time to really delve into this matter.
Anyhow, on that morning of June 2017 Google responded... it was pure magic and my heart started pounding... I typed the following words and hit the return key: "wounded 6th airborne paratrooper kitchen table June 6th 1944 Ranville". Bingo!... Some BBC WW2 archives and a text by Steve Lyons, Daniel's son, came up on the screen and did mention a "wounded soldier on a kitchen table in a cottage in Bourg-Neuf". That was the first mention of a witness... for 56 years I had heard this story of D-Day and knew all the details and for the very first time, 73 years later, I was able to find a name, a paratrooper who was still alive and had just attended the ceremonies in Ranville! I was fortunate enough to receive an answer to my email within the week... and Daniel F Lyons called me up right away, his very first words were:" Was it your mom who refused my chocolate ration that night?" I could not believe the question, yes it was my mom indeed... Thérèse, she was 5 and she had told me this story all her life... blurry-eyed we kept talking about that night, the wounded soldier, etc.
Shortly after, Daniel sent me letters and we initiated a beautiful correspondance in which he wrote the details of his war and D-Day. I had the feeling of coming full circle -- finally.
Simultaneously, I met Clément Horvath via his Till Victory Facebook page thanks to Daniel's name... It was meant to be. Things were aligned. The two had just met at Pegasus Bridge.
My mother, her siblings and myself organized an expedition to the Isle of Wight in August 2017 to meet with Daniel and his family and thank him for having personally liberated my family... and my mom kneeled to offer him a box of chocolates apologizing for her faux-pas... some 73 years later. I was able to capture this extremely moving scene on camera.
Clément Horvath was so moved by our story, he decided to write about it in his Till Victory (2) Letters of Veterans... the book came out last March, and now we are extremely moved to be able to see this documentary to honor Daniel F Lyons' memory and never forget about his sacrifice. His legacy lives directly through us all, we can never repay the debt of gratitude.
He volunteered at 17 and was 19 when he jumped on D-Day among the first 6th Airborne to jump to secure the bridges and the river banks to enable the Invasion at dawn. After the battle of Normandy, he will fight in the Ardennes and the Battle of the Rhine in Operation Varsity during which his jeep was destroyed. He then went on to Palestine with the prestigious SAS (Special Air Service). He dedicated 7 years of his young life to fight the worst conflict mankind ever knew.
It was high time to pay tribute to this last Emperor!
What Manner Of Men Are These That Wear The Maroon Beret?
They are firstly all volunteers and are toughened by physical training. As a result they have infectious optimism and that offensive eagerness which comes from well-being. They have 'jumped' from the air and by doing so have conquered fear.
Their duty lies in the van of the battle. They are proud of this honour. They have the highest standards in all things whether it be skill in battle or smartness in the execution of all peace time duties. They are in fact - men apart - every man an emperor.
Of all the factors, which make for success in battle, the spirit of the warrior is the most decisive. That spirit will be found in full measure in the men who wear the maroon beret”
General Montgomery
So when Time Magazine dares call 2020 "the worst year ever" I am appalled, stunned. I lack the words.
I am not going to bring up the Roman concept of “virtus” (derived from vir, latin word for man, hence virility) to refer to all of the "excellent qualities of men, including physical strength, valorous conduct, and moral rectitude." The English word of virtue was borrowed from the French word "vertu".  However the thought Nietzsche anticipating about the modern age plight and the era of the proliferation of idle and hedonistic men is now a reality.
Certainly, by our standards, 2020 is an Annus Horribilis. All that is asked from us is to stay home, watch series on Netflix and wait until it is safe to resume our previous ordinary lives and try not to complain too much about not having a New Year's Eve party. Nothing heroic about this.
Well, there was nothing ordinary about Daniel's life behind a very humble smile, it was extra-ordinary by all means almost until the end since he kept working well into his 90's to help others, bringing comfort and cookies to ship crews at 4:00 am off the Isle of Wight as an active member of Saint Thomas catholic church in Cowes.
We have vaccinations to almost everything, we have insurances against everything but assurance for nothing.
No, our "funny pandemic war" does not compare to anything the former generations have gone through during the world conflicts and yes, we have drawn very little lesson, and still are not quite aware about what courage is truly about, transmission has not been effective. We have become so vulnerable, so fragile, so babyfied, so pampered, so over-protected... mediocre... almost pathetic.
When I asked Daniel's family what would have Daniel done had he lived 6 more months through the pandemic? The answer was very simple: "he would have done as usual and worked to help people out like on a normal day."
Thank you Clément Horvath for keeping the flame alive.