Normandy – and How to Make the Best of Missed Plans

Blood and Guts Tour Part 3

My sons standing on Omaha Beach near the American Cemetery. Cold, rainy day in early July. Weather similar to D-Day

During our adventure to France, I decide to take Richard and Travis to Normandy, so that we could see Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. I consulted brochures at the hotel, and found a small bus tour operating out of Caen that stopped at the locations we were interested in. We took a cab to Gard du Nord and boarded a train. The trip to Caen was through the beautiful countryside north of Paris. At the station, I attempted to buy tickets to the bus tour, only to find that I neglected to read the small print, that the tours were on Tuesday and Thursday. It was Wednesday. Travis, ever the pessimist, immediately declared we had wasted the day, that we had taken a train trip for nothing, and now we had to go back without seeing anything. He considered this a disaster.

D-Day View of same beach area

I spotted a Hertz sign across the street.

“You know, this is why I have a job and an American Express card” I declared, and rented a car. It was not in that day’s budget, but as it turned out, we had a much better time. Pulling out a map of the area, Richard navigated the roads and we followed the signs through the pretty Normandy countryside, curving roads with houses butting up against the edges, with flowers and green cascading down the houses. British, Canadian, and U.S. flags flew from many of the homes and businesses.

The lovely seaside town of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain was thus found by accident.* We were hungry. Most towns in France have signs pointing to “Centre Ville” which indicates the main market and commercial area. We drove until the street ended at the ocean, near a large carousel. We stopped at the first restaurant we passed, which was Le Bistrot d’à Côté. We had a lovely lunch of fish soup, fresh bread, and a crockery pitcher full of the famous Normandy apple cider, which left a slight but refreshing buzz. (We also bought a bottle of Calvados from a local farmer; Travis later drank the entire bottle with his friends, MIXED WITH ORANGE JUICE, but that’s another story. I thought I raised him better than that. Orange juice!)

At the American Cemetery

German bunker above beach

After lunch we made our way to the American Cemetery. This trip was in 2004, before they built the new museum/visitor’s center. At the time, you parked and made your way past the beautiful park to the cemetery itself.

Some things can’t be describe, you have to experience them first hand. I stood and looked at the rows and rows of crosses and stars. Over 9300 graves, and the names of another 1500 missing on the walls.Each one of those white markers represented someone: a son, a brother, a husband, a father. Most of them were young. They climbed out of the landing boats and waded into bullets. Bravery is when you are afraid to do something, and you do it anyway. My grandfathers were too old to fight in WWII, and my father too young. This war didn’t touch me, directly, but standing there on a cold, rainy July day, a day not too unlike the D-Day in June 1944, I felt a connection with my countrymen, that they faced death in a foreign land because they had to stop a mad man.

The beach nearly 70 years later

Over 9400 graves, at just this cemetery

“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own…lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace.” – Colin Powell, Switzerland, January 2003.

Categories: Family, Food, Travel

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4 replies

  1. Beautifully said. I was there in the 1980s and surprised how little had changed since the landing- still pockmarked shell holes on some of the houses. But Caen? Look at photos of that city after the Allies drove the Germans out. Forty years later unrecognizable- all new buildings.

  2. Chip — Caen was totally leveled during the campaigns in the summer of 1944. At one point, in an effort to break through the German defenses, the Allies carpet-bombed the town. It didn’t work. The debris just gave the Germans more places to use as cover. The debris also prevented the British armor from moving through. As Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know…”

  3. ACTUALLY, I drank the Calvados straight out of the bottle.

    I felt pretty damn cultured that day.

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