Random: Mr. Mister/Mr. Master/Mr. Understanding

A word from the vernacular of the Eighties. “Random” was to 1983 what “dude” is to 2011. Recently, my mother, The Radish, was given this word as a prompt for a photography class. She tasked us with looking for random things during our travels around Paris and Normandy, items to which to direct her digital eye. In a Parisian storefront we saw a fuchsia Statue of Liberty. In Rouen, we saw a small boneca de roca (life-sized Brazilian doll) out on a street. Bizarre and random. Perhaps the most random thing we experienced was Eva the German tour guide who showed us around the D-Day beaches and St. Mere-Eglise. Knowledgeable, professional, and friendly, Eva helped us put June 6, 1944 in perspective. Uber-random.

When I was a teenager, my paternal grandmother took me on a three week trip to France. One of our stops was the American Cemetery in Omaha Beach. Nearly 30 years later, this is one of the few places I remember in detail. Today there is a visitors center but then there were just the endless marble memorials to the fallen soldiers. There was, in other words, very little context. The men with whom I was touring in 1981 all cried.

Eva gave us a little history of the crosses. I say crosses because there are more than 9,000 of them and only 149 Jewish stars. They are all made out of Italian Carrera marble. On the back of the crosses at the bottom is the number of the soldier´s dog tags. On the front, each memorial bears the name of the soldier, the date of death, his state, and his battalion. Unlike the British tombstones, there is no birthdate inscribed. Four women are buried at the Omaha Beach cemetery. Another 4,000 American soldiers are buried in the St. James cemetery on the way to Mont St. Michel.

In 1948, the American government gave the families of the fallen soldiers the option of moving the remains from temporary grave sites in France to home cemeteries in the US or to the Omaha Beach site. Forty percent elected to remain in France. Thirty five thousand American soldiers in total lost their lives in the Normandy campaign.

Today you can tell if a soldier´s family has visited recently by the stains on the marble. Sand from Omaha Beach (formerly called Plage dÓr) is rubbed into the etchings on the memorials so the inscription will stand out in photos. Quentin Roosevelt´s grave had recently been visited, judging by the stain on the cross. The only grave from WW1, Quentin is buried next to his brother Theodore. Theodore´s inscription needs no sand – his letters are emblazoned in gold because he is a Medal of Honor winner. Awarded posthumously, Teddy Jr. is one of three men with this distinction. He died of a heart attack 6 weeks after D-Day. Brothers are placed next to each other in the cemetery as is a pair of father and son casualties. The rest of the soldiers are placed randomly, their grave markers lining up in perfect harmony … like soldiers.

We left the Omaha Beach cemetery as it was shutting down for the night. The flag was lowered and folded by a random American visitor who knew how to fold it, the stars bundling up the stripes in a neat triangle. Taps was played over a loudspeaker:

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky,
Safely rest, all is well,
God is nigh.

Mr. Understanding used to sing Taps to Thing 1 when he would put her to bed. It was a song on one of those, now antique, story books that would play songs when you pushed a button.

On the way home to our farmhouse accommodations we passed a small memorial where 10 men lost their lives. One Pfc. Theodore Mister of Charlie company, 38th Battalion, a native of Baltimore, MD lost his life in the company of Theo Master, sucessfully pushing the Germans off a small, but strategic, creek. During the Battle of the Moulin des Rondelles on June 13, 1944, Mr. Mister led his company across the creek saying, ¨Come on, follow me!¨ He left behind a wife of two years and three month old daughter.

Our day ended on a cheerful note, Mr. Understanding folding a neat triangle of his own. For a small wager, he bet me he could make a cootie catcher. Thing 1 had made one at the dinner table out of a paper napkin. Mr. Understanding make a cootie catcher? He proceeded to precisely pleat a paper placemat into an enviable cootie catcher. The things you don’t know about your spouse of nearly 20 years. Now that is what I call random, dude.

To book Eva for your own tour, write her at info@experience-normandy.com or go to the website. To check out the house we stayed in, contact Martin Fletcher by going to this site. At the end of a road, Les Quatre Vents was a special treat and the garden pure paradise. It was an excellent choice for three generations!

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17 Comments

Filed under Family, Holidays, Life, People, Sightseeing, Travel

17 responses to “Random: Mr. Mister/Mr. Master/Mr. Understanding

  1. Kristin Brænne

    ★★★★★

  2. Mrs. NATO

    The imagery is powerful my dear friend. ::sob:: Well done.

  3. Mood Ring Mama

    Felt like I was with you. Great post.

  4. MCV was Here

    Well written! Not wise to read at work 😦

  5. 425Heidi

    Great post! Worth the wait. The picture of Mr. Mister is haunting. They were all so young.

  6. Thanks! This is the photo of him on the memorial. In another random note, his daughter lives about 3 hours away from our Florida house. Recently she traced his steps from Omaha Beach all the way to the battle sites.

  7. Radish

    This was a wonderful day. My husband and I had watched all the old movies of the war in Europe. He read many books. On one day we were at a small field were Band of Brother’ had fought. So many men died at this creek here. But nature has been kind here to the land and it is beautiful once again.

  8. Hank Green

    Thanks for mentioning Theodore Mister in your blog, he was my wife’s father. Send me an e-mail and I’ll shoot you the link to that monuments dedication in 2009.

    Hank Green

  9. meemskeems

    Random indeed… Pfc. Mister was my great-uncle and we share the same name and birthplace. I never knew anything about him until a couple of years ago when I did an internet search on my own name. I spoke to my father recently and he verified that was indeed his uncle who died heroically in the war. Just today I searched again and found this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of him before, thank you for that. Oh, and I also live in Columbus. Crazy huh?

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