150th Combat Engineer Battalion Battle Sights Tour September 1984
    We left JKF Airport on Icelandic Airlines about 3:30 on Friday afternoon on what I thought was a non-stop flight to Paris. But after an hour or so in the air we started to descend, and, lo and behold, we landed in Iceland, where they gave us about an hour to check out the gift shops. The red bus that was blue.
  Then on to Paris, but it wasn't Paris; it was Luxembourg, where two luxury buses awaited us. One bus was blue; the other was red. Now they assigned the people from the l50th to the blue bus, except the sign in the windshield said "Red Bus". 
    Now on to Caen, where we were assigned to a relative new motel. The other bus went to an older hotel, on the beach. It was midnight in Caen. We on the "Red Bus" felt a little cheated because the other bus was in an historic hotel, but after we met the people from the other bus later in the day we found out that while our continental breakfast was "all you could eat" of juice, croissants, coffee; the big hotel served one croissant, a small glass of juice, and one cup of coffee per person.Agnes and Carlos
    Early Sunday morning we were introduced to the driver of the "Red Bus" (which was blue). His name was Carlos, and he was from Belgium. Our tour guide was Agnes (pictured with Carlos on left) ; a vivacious, pretty, petite schoolteacher from Switzerland, who spoke several languages fluently. She guided tours during school vacations and was well trained in touring cathedrals, castles, and museums; but not battlefields! She and Colonel Reagan had a number of confrontations as to where and when we would go on any given day. (Agnes with Norm on the right)Agnes and Norm
    We saw "Pegasus Bridge", which was taken on D-day by British paratroopers, and because it was taken intact it allowed the British to advance quicker than anticipated. We saw many monuments erected in memory of British and American soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of France in 1944. One house had red, white, and blue letters taped to the window, 'WELCOME TO OUR LIBERATORS'. It is interesting to note that they were celebrating the 40th anniversary of their liberation from the American Military Cemetary at Omaha BeachGerman occupation, rather than celebrating VE Day, May 1945. We learned that, because of tides and weather conditions, if D-day couldn't have happened June 6, 1944, it would have had to be put off another whole month. 
    We visited the American military cemetery at Omaha Beach where there are 9,385 crosses for soldiers of both World Wars. From the vantage point of the cemetery we could look down on Omaha Beach and see the cliffs that the Rangers had climbed on D-day (below right), and what remained of the British artificial haCliffs Climbed on D-Dayrbors that were still in the water. We could also see what looked like small houses but were really German fortifications. (Below left)
German Fortifications
 

MONDAY 
    On the way to Utah Beach we saw the signs that were so familiar to us as we maintained the roads: "Isigny", "Carentan", First Monument of Liberty Highway"St. Lo". On Utah Beach they had converted a large German Bunker into a WW2 Museum, with pictures and memorabilia. Here we saw the first monument of the Liberty Highway, which goes from Utah Beach to the German border in Luxembourg. Every kilometer there is a monument. It is about three feet high, made of concrete, and looks like a bomb with the fins down, with red white and blue stripes; and it tells how far it is from Utah Beach. 
    Then we proceeded along a road near the ocean, trying to see if anything looked familiar. Many places did, but they weren't quite right; and then Borge and I both yelled, "THIS is where we came ashore!". We stopped the bus, and there was a sign depicting the landings, and we were on Red Fox Beach We read the information on the sign and agreed that this was the exact spot that we came ashore. We went to the water's edge, and most of us collected some sand to take home. 
    Then we proceeded to Ste. Marie Eglise, Cathedral at Ste. Marie Eglisethe first French village to be liberated during the invasion. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the liberation, a parachute had been hung on the steeple of the cathedral. At this cathedral, a paratrooper hung on the steeple twelve hours and played dead, until the Allied Forces had taken the village. It is a twelfth century church which has been partially rebuilt. A stained glass window has been erected in memory of the liberation. The window shows the Virgin Mary surrounded by paratroopers. 
    I remember people wearing wooden shoes in the wet country near the coast when we were here in 1944, but they are not worn today. They wear rubber boots instead. We saw the hedgerows which hampered the advance of the troops in 1944. These hedgerows are used instead of fences, to separate fields in this rural area, and they are formed by piling dirt four or five feet high; then planting bushes along the top of the ridge. When Agnes was talking about the economy, she pointed out the abundance of cows, and added, "The immediate result of a milch cow is cheese!" 
    From there we went to St. Lo, where we climbed up on the remains of the old city wall. St. Lo wasSt. Lo in 1984, from city wall totally destroyed by bombs during World War II. The Germans had taken a stand there, and allied forces were held up on the beaches until bombers came to destroy the German stronghold. The bombers were directed by smoke bombs fired by the Infantry to show the location of their front lines, but smoke drifted back over allied lines and the bombers dropped their loads too soon. Reserve troops had to be brought forward because two divisions had been made ineffective because of the bombing. The 150th had escaped that disaster, but we went through St. Lo when it was still burning, on roads bull-dozed through the rubble. (St. Lo in 1984, from the city wall, above)
    It was at St. Lo the Third Army was activated. In 1984 we followed their route on to Avranches; then took a side trip to see le Mont St. Michel. St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in the Eighth Century, founded this huge monastery at the demand of St. Michel, who appeared to him twice in a vision and demanded a chapel be built in his honor on this high rock which is actually an island at high tide.Hotel at Caen Today it is a network of old buildings forming a tiny village, yet it is one building. 
    It was at Avaranches that General Patton began the terrific advance which smashed the German offensive from Mortain. By the time the Germans organized their counter attack, the 150th was already at St. Hilaire, and we realized we had had a close call at Avranches. Our bus went on to Mortain, Vire, Villers, Bocage; then back to the hotel at Caen. (Picture right) 

TUESDAY 
    We left Caen enroute to Chartres and Paris. We saw many half-timber houses, thatched roof houses, cows, horses, and sheep. At the Chartres Cathedral we stopped for a tour. The men of the 150th had seen the cathedral as they passed through in August, 1944, and the infantry asked where they were going, as no troops had been through! They bivouacked, doubled the guard, and dug the foxholes deeper! 
    Our hotel in Paris was not in Paris, but twenty miles north, in the cornfields. Those who planned to spend the night on the town were disappointed, especially two couples celebrating their wedding anniversaries! Agnes and Carlos contacted their headquarters in Switzerland and got permission to take us into Paris for the evening. Paris has changed alot. The tour guide warned us about groups of children who would beg for money and rip you off if they had a chance. We stopped at the overlook to the Eiffel Tower and were accosted by Moraccans who had stuff to sell and almost forced you to buy it. 

WEDNESDAY 
    To bed at miVersaillesdnight, and off at 7:45 a.m. to keep our appointment for a castle tour in Fontainbleau! 
    Napoleon sure built a beautiful palace and grounds; a work of art. Then on to Versailles(left) and lunch in an outdoor cafe. The castle is breathtaking. There is so much there it is hard to describe without spending volumes on it. The interior is a work of art, all over; everywhere you look. And the grounds with the gardens, the paths, the reflecting pools, and the waterfalls; we did not have time to really get to see all of the grounds. We especially admired the statues, which were everywhere. Carlos and the home of the Baron and Baroness
   At Truezy, near Nemours, we found the exact field where the 150th bivouacked in 1944. An old man who was there wouldn't let us get out and look around because the owner wasn't home. Apparently the owner is the grandson of the Baron and Baroness who were so gracious in 1944. At that time the couple wanted to invite our officers into their home for dinner, but they had no food. The officers talked to our cooks, and the cooks gave them enough food to feed the group and delivered it to the chateau where it was prepared and served French-style. 

THURSDAY 
    Paris! Paris, the Island CityIt began in the first century BC, on an island in the Seine. Lucy and I left the group, walked up the Champs d'Elysses; looked at L'Opera, Piguale, Montmarte, and stopped at a little cafe to have lunch. We sat down and looked at the menu, which was in French. When the lady at the next table heard our conversation she asked if she could help us. She had been in the French Underground during World War II, and she thanked me for having come to help liberate France. She knew exactly what she wanted, and had ordered and eaten and another had taken her place before we were ready to leave. When the second woman overheard our difficulty with the French money, she offered to help. We were surprised at the kindness that were shown us by complete strangers. The cafe was directly across the street from a Christian Dior shoppe. 
    Myles and Clodell Smith were celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary by this trip to Paris, and Roland and Pat Lee were also celebrating an anniversary. These couples were among the six who chose to stay in Paris for dinner and The Follies. We went back to the hotel. At dinner we got acquainted with the Swiss Tour Guide on the "Blue Bus". He is an artist; sells paintings for $1,000 and up, but chooses to spend six months each year as a Tour Guide to keep up his contact with people. 
    We spend three hours eating our evening meal. One waiter came around and asked each person for his/her cheese order, which he then prepared and served. Then he came around and asked for our wine order, which he also served. About then, it was time for them to serve us the meal, which the one waiter served. We were getting a little impatient by the time dessert came. We learned that this is how it's done in France. 

FRIDAY 
    We were back to the rolling hills, after the flat land around Paris. Clusters of stone buildings with tile roofs are entirely surrounded by walls--one cluster for each farm. There are no hedgerows like we saw in Normandy. Instead, villages were fortified centuries ago for protection against the bandits who roamed the area. On each side of the road the living quarters and the animal quarters were side by side, and manure was piled out in the street. The farmers had fields outside the compounds where they grew crops and pastured their animals. We are in the champagne region, approaching Reims, a city of 200,000. 
    The cathedral at Reims constructed between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries,City Gate at Verdun was where the kings and queens of France were baptized All French kings were crowned in this cathedral. The surrender of the Germans was accepted here on May 7, 1945. We visited champagne caves in Moet, where 70 million bottles of champagne lie aging in the 18 miles of caves. 
    In Verdun we saw the inspiration for the Engineer symbol, the castle, on a city gate built by Louis XIV (Picture, left). World War I battlefields in this area have been left undisturbed in a memorial park, but trees and bushes hide the uneven contours of shell holes. Here there were underground 'galleries' in the mountains, where citizens took refuge during the battles. In 1944, many of us picked up fur jackets in Verdun. We passed by the World War I monument and museum on our way to our hotel in Metz. It was a nice hotel; normal slow service at dinner. 

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