The names "Thomas and Dorothy" were carved in the bark of one trunk. Another said "Bob and Carma." Other trees were marked with soldiers’ home states — Iowa, Maine or Alabama — and several bore hearts and the names or initials of a wife or girlfriend.
The beech trees of Saint Pierre de Varengeville-Duclair forest in France bore a poignant testimony to the D-Day landings for more than six decades. Thousands of American soldiers stationed there after the liberation of Normandy spent their spare hours with a knife or bayonet creating a lasting reminder of their presence.
Although the trees grew and the graffiti swelled and twisted, this most peculiar memory of one of the 20th century’s defining moments remained visible — until now. Amid bureaucratic indifference and a dispute between officials and the forest owner, most of the trees have been felled, chopped up and turned into paper.
Claude Quétel, a French historian and World War II specialist, was horrified when he discovered what he called a catastrophe and a shameless act. "It is a typically French failing to wipe out the traces of the past," he told The Times. "I am indignant."
Local people are calling for the few "name trees" that still stand to be classified as historic monuments and saved from the same fate.
"It should have been done a long time ago," said Nicolas Navarro, the curator of a World War II museum in the grounds of his family’s 13th-century Château du Taillis nearby. "It’s sad and pathetic that it wasn’t."
The beech trees are described as one of the finest World War II relics left in Normandy, but local officials deemed them unsafe. They ordered Patrice Robin, 79, who owns the land, to prune branches overhanging the road.
"I said no at first," he said. "But they threatened to take action against me."
It costs about $1,200 to prune a beech tree but only about $300 to cut it down. Robin chose the cheaper option. "It’s complete madness, but I couldn’t do anything else."