France Research Trip for the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I Novel - Part 6

The following day, we left our itinerary up to Roger. We wanted to see significant sites around Verdun, the main area he worked as a tour guide.

He started us off with a piece of WWII history on an out-of-the-way road—a bridge that was initially used for D-Day. It was saved and reused as this bridge. Driving over it, we imagined its significance during the Second World War.

Then we headed into Verdun, a stunning mixture of medieval and modern. The castle-like structures and fortresses lined narrow roads, and I spotted plenty of WWI shell and bullet-marked buildings.

A passage on a cobblestone street led under arches to the inner courtyard of the Episcopal Palace that now holds the World Centre for Peace (including a WWI museum) and a cathedral. The serenity of the nearly empty cathedral was captivating. Roger took us below to show paintings that had been covered by rubble from the war and later rediscovered. They were over one thousand years old.

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France Research Trip for the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I Novel - Part 5

It was time, at last, to follow in the actual footsteps of the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I.

We set out the next morning with Roger and soon ended up on a gravel road following a sign that read Abri du Kronprinz. Roger had something to show us before we officially set out. (The considerable advantage of having a tour guide who is a WWI buff and happens to live in France is that he can take you to all the places you might otherwise miss.) 

Down that gravel road were bunkers built for the German crown prince Wilhelm, son of Wilhelm II. Years worth of leaves filled the entrance to these magnificent bunkers, most of them quite ornate. We edged down the slope into one to see remnants of the once flamboyant hideaway in the midst of a horrific war. Fireplace inserts and what I would call a bay window showed the luxury German officers and leaders often enjoyed.

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France Research Trip for the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I Novel - Part 4

Roger drove us to a monument not far from his home, though he admitted he hadn’t even known it was there until one evening when it was lit up in the distance, and he asked his neighbors what it was.

We arrived and parked at the Montfaucon American Monument, a massive granite Doric column. We tucked our belongings in the car’s boot before exploring the area—concrete German bunkers scattered around; 6th-century ruins of Saint-Germain Abbey.

Roger explained how what had remained of the abbey was gradually destroyed by the Germans, French, and finally, the Americans, during intense battle. Ancient history clashing with 20th-century warfare.

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COVER REVEAL! Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I Novel

You dedicate years of your life to a book project, but it all comes down to the cover, right? I dreamed of something epic, historically accurate, emotionally gripping.

I put a check mark in each of those boxes with this fabulous cover design created by Kirk DouPonce of DogEared Design. My mother, Lynda Kay Sawyer, captured this heroic look of my brother, Jon (Johnny) Sawyer as our mixed-blood Choctaw Code Talker. Paul Porter, private WWI collector, loaned the authentic uniform and equipment worn by a doughboy in France. 

What more could you ask for?

Here is the cover at last:

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France Research Trip for the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I Novel - Part 3

There is no way I can capture the 10 day research trip short of writing a book about the experience unless I use broad strokes and a load of pictures. I hope you've braced yourself for this blog series, because I’m firing words and photos like a machine gun.


Or at least like a M-1917 Enfield or 1903 Springfield, both American-used rifles in WWI.

But I digress.

Before we left Reims for the rural French countryside, I searched online and found a lovely but inexpensive little hotel in Dun-sur-Meuse. When scouring lodging options, it came up with great reviews and a central location to where we were researching so we opted to stay there four nights.

It wasn’t until rolling across the Meuse river that divides the town and seeing that the bridge was dedicated by the American 5th Division did I realize we were once again smack dab in the middle of WWI history. You can’t escape it in northeastern France. 

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