Sunday, November 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Perplexing details surface as I explore a theme

MarionFranckW

By
From page A13 | October 23, 2011 |

Sergeant Curtis G. Culin III survived World War II but lost a leg. He became a salesman in New York, married and died in 1963, 1965 or 1981. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and mentioned in a speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. On the Web, the only recent references are to a plaque in his hometown, Camden, New Jersey, erected in 1987 or 1992.

I looked Culin up after our vacation because he had become part of the story.

Our vacation started out as “a visit to France,” but by the time my husband and I had repeated our plans to several people, we realized our trip was a little unusual. We were not simply visiting France; our vacation had acquired a theme.

We had decided to look into one moment in history: D-Day, June 6, 1944. We weren’t born at that time, but it was an important era for our parents, especially Bob’s father, who fought in France later that year.

Once we recognized that our vacation had a theme, we acted on it deliberately. When a friend recommended a bed and breakfast outside of Caen, site of a major World War II museum, I jumped on it. I read a book about D-Day and my husband reviewed the ones he’d read previously and began another.

As I read, the story of the hedgerows in Normandy, known collectively in French as “le bocage,” became especially compelling, eventually leading me to Sergeant Culin.

————

For centuries farmers in Normandy used tall, dense rows of bushes and trees to demarcate pieces of land. This was “le bocage.” Seen from the air it looks like a crazy quilt.

In a major mistake of World War II, the Allies failed to anticipate the difficulty of breaking through the hedgerows after landing in Normandy. The hedgerows must have looked benign when spotted from airplanes before the invasion, but they were taller than expected because of deep ditches next to them, more dense than armor, and defended even below ground by centuries-old tangles of rocks and roots.

They were also close together, so that a military unit might have to break through a dozen hedgerows to travel less than a mile.

I imagined how terrifying it must have been to see only as far as the next hedge, behind which any number of enemies could be lurking. How vulnerable the men must have felt.

They turned to tanks, of course, but the hedgerows were too formidable even for them. The tanks failed to break through, and if they were to climb over, they risked exposing their vulnerable underbellies.

As I drove the small roads of Normandy, I studied the hedgerows, noting the variation in the tightness of their weave. Some looked totally impassible. When we got lost and I had to make a U-turn on a narrow French road, I got a good look at one of the ditches. I could see why many lives were lost in the hedgerows.

At a museum, I read that the American military conquered the hedgerows thanks to an invention by Curtis G. Culin III. A few weeks after D-Day, this 29-year-old sergeant in the U.S. Army devised a fork-like pushing mechanism that could be attached to the front of a tank so that it could blast through a hedgerow.

His invention, known as the “rhino,” was quickly installed on many tanks and became a source of American pride, especially since it was built using steel from abandoned German beach obstacles.

————

Traveling through “le bocage,” I discovered that a themed vacation, at least for me, is about trying to reach a level of sensation that I don’t reach when I consider a topic in a more cursory or more distant manner.

I brought home a series of powerful images, some of which I captured on camera, while others couldn’t be captured at all.

The hedgerows are the best example. One morning, I simply stopped the car and said to Bob I wanted to photograph hedgerows. I look at those photos now and all I see is tall, healthy greenery next to our grey rental car. The sense of them as a menacing obstacle isn’t in my photographs any more than the horror of D-Day is in the gentle waves off the beaches of Normandy.

Back home, I travel the internet trying to find out more about Sergeant Culin, but I encounter conflicting information not only about his life but also about the relative importance of his invention. Two writers even talk about the “myth” of the effectiveness of Culin’s rhino.

History remembers or forgets or disputes someone’s actions, and like so much else, that seems a matter of luck. My trip was designed to learn about history, but history is a difficult beast.

Nevertheless, I will remember what it felt like to be in Normandy and I will remember what I saw — especially the hedgerows.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at marionf@omsoft.com. Her column appears Sundays.

Comments

comments

.

News

 
Need for local foster parents grows

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

Tactical robot decreases officer risks

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Hollywood readies its big guns for the holidays

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Couple arrested on drug, firearm possession charges

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

 
Woman confronts suspicious follower

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

Bob Dunning: Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

 
For the record

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

Berkeley, Santa Cruz students protest fee hikes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Breakfast with Santa tickets are going fast

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Auction-bound student artwork stolen in downtown heist

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
UCD awarded $100M to lead program to predict, prevent pandemic threats

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

Probationers, parolees graduate from Yolo transitional program

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Free boot camp, yoga fundraiser this week

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Enterprise observes holiday hours

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Bell-ringers still needed this holiday season

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Give blood and get a free movie ticket

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Thanksgiving feast is open to all

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Workshop will answer financial aid questions

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

At the Pond: Stop, look and listen

By Jean Jackman | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Round up at the registers for Davis schools

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Yolo Food Bank invites locals to run with the flock

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Museum announces holiday schedule

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Project Linus seeks donations

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

 
Swing your partner!

By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A6

Fairfield School enjoys a festive feast

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
Right at home: gifts you can use and use up

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Dec. 10 jeans drive benefits STEAC

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A9

 
Davis Community Church history recounted in Sunday talk

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Open your heart

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
Bob Hope interview pulled from ‘the vault’

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12

.

Forum

There’s only one way to fix this

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Students barking up the wrong tree

By Our View | From Page: A14

Rick McKee cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A14

 
Heartbroken over treatment of teacher

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

Google, tell me. Is my son a genius?

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A14

 
Daryl Cagle cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A15

Cordial political discourse: Seven years later, the thoughts resonate

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

 
Easing the stress during college application season

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

Watch out for holiday weight gain

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16

 
When the computer stares back

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A16

How I want to be remembered

By Marion Franck | From Page: A16

 
.

Sports

Turnovers costly as UC Davis loses Classic, 41-30

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Aggie men finish off Furman

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Upset-minded Lions bounce UCD from WWPA tourney

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
New, old-look helmets not enough to lift UCD footballers

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Late shot sinks Aggie women

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
UCD roundup: Seniors play well in Aggie volleyball loss

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

With volleyball playoff berth, DHS accomplished its 2014 goal

By Evan Ream | From Page: B6 | Gallery

 
Wire briefs: Kings get past depleted T-Wolves

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Features

.

Arts

.

Business

 
Don’t pass up the parking gift downtown

By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A13

Doby Fleeman: Give thanks for our innovation culture

By Doby Fleeman | From Page: A20

 
Honey, spreads showcased at open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A20

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Sunday, November 23, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B8