Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Veteran Voices: An American Santa in France (Part 2)

By Richard "Dick" Cotton, resident at Casa de Manana Retirement Community

Sixty-nine years after Corporal Cotton served in World War II, his son, Guy, visited France, retracing his father's journey from the Cherbourg Peninsula to the small town of Dauendorf in Eastern France.

Before Guy left for Europe, he asked me if I had any memorabilia. I gave him a newspaper clipping from the Port Huron Michigan Times Herald titled “Medal Winner is ‘Santa Claus’: Toys From Port Huron Bring Joy To French Family.” Here is how I became known as Santa Claus in France. 
When Guy arrived in France, he hired a tour guide to show him, and his family, the places my battalion had backed up the infantry as we took the city of Cherbourg. The tour guide asked if Guy had any memorabilia from me.

Guy showed the tour guide, Geert Van Des Bogaert, my newspaper clipping from 1944 and it sparked an interest. The guide suggested sending the newspaper clipping to one of his friends, Jacelyne Papelard, who worked on stories related to WWII in the Alsace Lorraine area.

Joselyn requested I return to France in December 2014, 70 years later. I was invited to meet one of the children I had given a toy to all those years ago. The time and energy Joselyn put into setting up the whole trip, was nothing but phenomenal.

There were five memorable highlights:

The first, and most important, is the fact my two sons and three grandsons were able to join me on my journey. Traveling with them, made the trip much more special and meaningful.

Second, our visit to the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial was very moving, as I remembered the 5,255 military dead buried at the cemetery, who lost their lives in campaigns across northeastern France to the Rhine and beyond into Germany. Remembering those fallen soldiers, I felt the desire to kneel and honor them.

Third, we were asked to attend a luncheon meeting at a hotel in Lutzelbourg. The luncheon was held in the hotel’s restaurant, which is considered one of the finest restaurants in all of the Alsace area! During the time the Nazi’s were in control, Hitler was known to dine there. We were greeted at the door by the owner Marc Carriger. He escorted my family and me inside, where we were welcomed by the Mayor of Lutzelbourg, council members, the military and the media! The media asked me and four members of my family to come outside and wave an American scarf that looked like a flag, while they took pictures!

Fourth, I was finally reunited with a lady who was one of the three children in the family that I had given the toys to all those years ago. Maria Martz had been four years old, and I was a 19-year old soldier the first time we met. Meeting Maria after 70 years, gave me satisfaction that everything I did as a soldier, was incredibly worth it, and at that moment, I believed my mission was completed, as "Santa Claus had returned to France.”

We were all swarmed by national and local media, who asked questions about our feelings of the reunion. The mayor of Dauendorf was also present! He had a great smile, so I told him I liked his smile and that he had my vote! He got a big kick out of this!

Later that evening, I was invited to address the City Council of Dauendorf! Once we arrived at the council building, it looked dark from the outside, but once we proceeded in and opened the door, there stood some members of a high school band. I was met with nothing but excitement. I walked up the steps, surrounded by a French high school band playing music. There were many people there; council members, celebrities, children and adults dressed in French costumes. I got to the podium and addressed the mayor of Dauendorf, council members, the military, the media, and the people of Dauendorf!

In my speech, I closed with the following words:

“In closing, Mr. Mayor, council members, people of Dauendorf and the Alsace area, I want you to know that I consider it an honor to be among you. I certainly admire the way you handled the German occupation, believing always that right would win out. My prayer is that God will bless each one of you and that our two countries will remain governments of the people, by the people, and for the people. From the bottom of my heart I say, ‘Vive le France.’”

Lastly, we returned to Paris and visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. We attended a mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed. I thanked God that I had the opportunity to have spent my time as a soldier; helping people that were a defeated nation, come back to life again.

These moments of time that I spent in France are memories that I will never forget as long as I live.

Read PART 1: A Hero's Journey.

Veteran Voices: A Hero's Journey (Part 1)

by Richard "Dick" Cotton, resident at Casa de MaƱana Retirement Community

I enlisted a day after I graduated from high school. I chose the Army because I knew if I went in the Navy, I would get seasick. My vision wasn't good, so flying was not for me. I believed enlisting was the responsibility of anyone physically able to serve his or her country.

Joining the Army was an opportunity to get away from my hometown and see what the rest of the world was like. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive. When I was in combat, my dad sat down every night and wrote me a note. It was tough when the mail came, especially when we received the mail in combat. I received so much mail, but some of my buddies did not even get one letter.

I don't think I would call my time in the service "fun" but what I learned about life was really worthwhile. Throughout the rest of my life, I learned that I needed to handle someone's instruction and not try to fight it. Being a team player was more important, and you learn to accomplish more than being solo.

My first combat was on June 12, 1944, in the Cherbourg Peninsula in France. Our battalion had landed on Utah Beach with our artillery guns to help the infantry in its move forward to take the city of Cherbourg.

I reported to the field artillery forward observer officer and my job was to radio back information he gave me to the field artillery. This made it possible for the artillery to effectively aim their guns where the Germans were located. 

On Oct. 21st, 1944, I was awarded the Bronze Star medal for heroic achievement in action against the enemy and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered at the time. The citation reads … “with complete disregard for his own safety he traversed an open field under intense machine gun fire in order to rescue two soldiers lost from the main body of troops. Although he received a painful leg wound, he continued his mission and successfully guided the two lost soldiers to their proper areas. The courage and devotion duty displayed by Corporal Cotton reflects great credit on the armed forces of the United States.” 

The German machine gunner shot me in the calf of my right leg. The bullet entered and exited the fat part of the calf. The medics were able to patch up my leg and then I was able to go forward and rejoin the infantry company.
Sixty-nine years later, my youngest son, Guy, and his family, traveled to Europe for vacation. They were interested in the places I was involved in WWII, so they traveled to France - their first stop was the Cherbourg Peninsula.

Find out about how Corporal Cotton became known as "Santa Claus" in the French town of Dauendorf in Part 2 of this blog.




Monday, May 1, 2017

Dementia: A Learning Journey

A Son's Journey to Understand Dementia Continues After Father's Passing

By Rich Barger

I’m Rich Barger and this is a story about my dad. My dad was a resident of Villa Gardens  Retirement Community. He spent his final months at the Summer House memory care neighborhood at Villa Gardens. My dad passed away on January 17, 2016 from late stage Parkinson ’s disease, which is one of the common dementias.

My dad’s final chapter took almost three years to write. During those three years, I learned much about the behaviors associated with each stage of the disease that I knew would eventually take his life. I know now that managing his dementia was more than seeing his doctors and filling his prescriptions – it was about maintaining my dad’s dignity, managing expectations, and making certain that the last years, months, weeks, and days of his life were as fulfilling as they could be. Fortunately for me and my family dad used that time to his advantage.

My dad’s final chapter would have had a far different ending if it weren’t for the excellent care he received from what had quickly become his extended family at Villa Gardens. I am now paying forward that excellent care and find myself in a very different place than I believed I would be – learning about caregiving, supporting the members of the memory care community, finding ways to assist the staff, and educating myself.

Dementia is just now being understood. There are more than 80 different forms, and the chemistry that causes dementia is a new science for most of the medical community. What I found was that caregiving takes on a new meaning when it involves taking care of a loved one that has been diagnosed with an affliction that will eventually take his or her life. My behavior would certainly have been different during my dad’s final chapter if I had the knowledge and understanding that I have now.

I’ll share more as I learn more. I’m hopeful that many of you will take that learning journey with me and support our Summer House memory care community.