Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 8, 2014

Road to liberty

"There's one!" husband Art said, pointing to something on the traffic island of a busy street in Metz, France.

As we rounded the corner, I strained to see what he was so excited about. It looked like cross between a rounded traffic barrier - the kind we use to prevent traffic from plowing into construction sites - and R2D2, the little robot in the "Star Wars" movies.

But once I got out of the car and walked over to the spot, I could see it was larger and more "squatty" than most traffic barrels in the U.S. and not nearly as cute as the little robot. It didn't help that vandals had slapped paint on one side of it and it was leaning somewhat - more than likely the result of being hit by a car.

But its poor condition didn't dampen Art's enthusiasm. "Take a picture of it," he implored.

Officially, the object is called a "Borne" - a marker. But these are special and have nothing to do with routing traffic. Art had read about them before we went to France and he had shared some of the information with me.

This particular Borne was one of more than a thousand markers stretching from France's Utah Beach to Bastogne, Belgium. They were dedicated in 1947 to commemorate the path of Gen. George Patton's Third Army as it liberated one town after another from Nazi Germany's stranglehold on Western Europe during World War II. His army and other Allied forces were able to roll across France in a relatively short time, thanks, in large measure, to help from the French Resistance.

The idea to place the markers was the brainchild of Patton's French liaison officer Guy de la Vasselais. The French wanted others to understand their gratitude to the young Americans who had traveled thousands of miles to help liberate them. They thought a single monument to the bravery of the Allied Forces wouldn't be enough, so they placed Bornes at every kilometer along the route Patton had taken.

Built out of concrete, a Liberty Road monument stands nearly 50 inches high and weighs more than 650 pounds. While they can vary, all have the same general appearance and have certain common elements. These include a torch, inspired by the torch carried by the Statue of Liberty, a capital "A" - the symbol of Patton's Third Army, waves to represent the ocean upon which the liberators traveled, 48 stars representing each of the American states at the time, and the kilometer number.

Borne 0 is located in front of the city hall in Ste. Mere Eglise, the first town liberated after the D-Day landings of June 1944. Later, it was decided that a marker would be placed on Utah Beach where Gen. Theodore Roosevelt III - the only general in the landing parties - stepped ashore. His landing craft was pushed off course by the heavy seas. Unfazed, he was quoted as saying, "We'll start the war from right here!" To avoid re-numbering all the other markers, it was designated "00."

When we first arrived in France, Art asked our friends Gerard and Francis if they knew where any of the Bornes were located. Neither could recall where any were placed, so Art thought it might be difficult to find one.

But just a few days after our chance encounter in Metz, we saw several more during our return journey from a day trip to Verdun. Art checked his GPS so we could go back another day to take photos. He was startled to see the road we had taken was marked "Voie de la Liberte" - Liberty Road. By accident, we had stumbled onto the road. We returned the following day and had no difficulty locating one marker after another because they were placed every kilometer.

Changes to the road over the decades, such as widening and the installation of traffic circles, meant that some of the Bornes became hazards. So in 1982, damaged and displaced Bornes were replaced with plastic replicas. The French government put the original stone monuments on sale in 1985.

Some came to the U.S. The distribution was handled by the Liberty Road Foundation. The first to be brought here was dedicated on June 6, 1992 in Denver, Colo. A second was dedicated two years later in New York City harbor at the entrance to the Aircraft Carrier Intrepid. On Oct. 15, 1994, the third was installed at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan. The fourth was placed at the Camp Blanding Museum at Starke, Fla., and was dedicated on May 9, 1998.

While I was surprised to learn that Abilene, only 45 minutes away from our home in Manhattan, has one of the Bornes, it seemed fitting. It was here that the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe spent his formative years. And it's appropriate that other Bornes are located in other U.S. cities. The bond between our country and France stretches throughout our history. They helped us during our Revolution and Civil War. They gave us the Statue of Liberty. In turn, we helped them regain their freedom during World War II at a terrible cost in human lives.

Today, the Bornes stand silently and inconspicuously along Liberty Road. As I took pictures of some, I wondered how many of the people passing by knew their story - a story of sacrifice and gratitude.

Top: two signs along Liberty Road; bottom left: one of the original Bornes in Metz; bottom middle-left: the first Borne that caught Art's eye; bottom middle-right: Borne in Gravelotte, a village west of Metz; bottom-right: Art's cousin's son Ryan with a marker near Utah Beach.

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