| 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. 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
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; 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
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 German occupation, ratyher 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
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, and what
remained of the British artificial harbors that were still in the water.
We could also see what looked like small houses but were really German
On the way to Utah Beach we saw the
signs that were so familiar to us as we maintained the roads: "Isigny",
"Carentan", "St. Lo". On Utah Beach they had converted a large German Bunker
into a WW2 Museum, with pictures and memorabelia. 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
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,
the 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
From there we went to St. Lo, where
we climbed up on the remains of the old city wall. St. Lo was 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
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. Today
it is a network of old buildings forming a tiny village, yet it is one
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.
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 bivouaced, 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.
To bed at midnight, 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 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
At Truezy, near Nemours, we found the exact
field where the 150th bivouaced 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.
Paris! It 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 kindnesses 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
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.
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, 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. 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.
At breakfastime Borge and Blackie
wanted to get some bacon and eggs. They were sick of croissants. They asked
alot of people where they could get bacon and eggs, and were sent to the
railroad station, but the information turned out to be false. After a long
walk, they settled for croissants!
In 1944 we took out a roadblock in
Chateau-Salins and the Fourth Armored went in and took over the area. We
then pulled back into the Champaneaux Forest where we spent six weeks waiting
for gasoline. We didn't exactly wait. Our mission was to keep the main
supply roads open, and we walked miles and miles, replacing roads. We also
took in replacements there. In 1984, we found the site where we had removed
the roadblock, but we couldn't spot the farm where we chased chickens and
turkeys with helmets, knives, etc. We had given the loot to the cooks,
who prepared a nice chicken dinner for the troops. We kept the butter we
had liberated, and fried some of the fowl to keep in reserve for snacks.
After six weeks, we went back into
Chateau-Salins, where we were bivouacked up on a hill overlooking what
we thought was the entire Fourth Armored Division so we felt very safe..
We dug foxholes, and I was sitting on my foxhole writing a letter to Lucy
when my peripheral vision picked up an artillery burst off to the left;
then one to the right. I got into my foxhole, and the next shell landed
in the foxhole next to me, killing Carl Fryback.
In 1984 we stopped in Gramacey where
we held a memorial services for the three men who were killed in this area:
Carl Fryback, James Cassidy, and Jimmy Kasmir. When we finished our ceremony,
three doves flew over us as we stood on the steps of the chapel.
We noticed in the Battalion History
the 150th passed through here on September 23, 1944. We were here again
on September 22, 1984!
On our way to attend an English mass
at the little stone church in Diekirch, we stopped at bridge sites at Ettelbruck.
At one of the bridge abutments we saw a small park and a statue honoring
General Patton. This is where we first pre-fabed the pneumatic floats with
the saddles and used a quickway crane to load them on trucks and unload
them into the water. We used this same procedure later on the Rhine.
The people of Luxembourg observe Liberation
Day July 10th in gratitude to the Anerican and British troops who gave
their lives for freedom. The church was already filled when we arrived,
and two more busloads made "standing room only". After the mass, in spite
of the pouring rain, the entire congregation marched to the monument in
a lovely park filled with roses. There we listened to speeches by the lady
mayor and the U.S.Ambassador to Luxembourg before the unveiling of the
monument. All veterans and their guests were invited to a wine reception
in City Hall.
We got back into the buses and went
to Clerveaux for lunch. On the way we found another bridge site in Lipperschied
where A Company built a 120-foot Double-double Bailey. In Clerveaux we
saw another monument which had been dedicated just the day before "To our
Liberators". What a pretty town, way down in a valley, with no autos allowed
in the center of the village. Later we returned to Diekirch for the dedication
of the new World War II museum. Colonel Reagan had donated a number of
On the way back to Luxembourg City,
as we bypassed a small village, Borge called me and said, "Hey Norm! That's
where we stayed in Mersch." One night when we came back to the house after
putting in a bridge, the lady of the house had ;made a nice, hot barley
soup, and boy, it tasted good!
As we approached Luxembourg City we
saw a large modem concrete and steel bridge, and Agnes, in her sweet accent
said, "Und you built THAT one, too, I suppose?"
While we were in Mersch in 1944 the
Quartermaster Corps had set up a shower down by a river. We had left Sarguimines
with the Third Army and had been on the road for something like six weeks
working under cold, wet dirty conditions with no time for personal hygiene.
A platoon at a time went to the showers. There you stripped down, leaving
all your clothes except your personal items and your boots. You were given
soap and a towel; and oh, that hot water felt good! When you were clean
you were given a complete set from the skin out, of CLEAN CLOTHES. You
put on your clothes, put on your boots, took your personal items and got
on the truck to go back to Merch. This quartermaster shower is mentioned
in the book THE DAMNED ENGINEERS by Janice Holt Giles.
On to Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne
stopped the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. It was here that General
McAuliffe gave his answer to the demand for surrender: "Nuts!". The entire
city was destroyed in the battle.
In Malmedy we stopped at the memorial
to the American prisoners who were murdered there by the Germans.
Then we persuaded the Colonel, and
Agnes, and Carlos to take us to that little town called Hoesdorf where
the 150th put the 80th Division across the flooded Sauer River in assault
boats under cover of darkness, under fire, after several failed attempts
to build a bridge. The Colonel had not been involved in that mission, so
didn't understand why it meant so much to us, and it was only after Hoesdorf
that Agnes understood that our group was NOT in Europe to see castles and
The Colonel said, "Due to time restraints,
we will say a little prayer outside the bus, and then go on." We had a
different idea. As the doors of the bus opened, we headed down into the
tiny village and into the cemetery, where we could view the apple orchard
and the river that we had seen only at night until this day. The Seigfried
Line across the river was gone. All the pillboxes and bunkers from which
the enemy fire came had been destroyed and removed.
We met a lady whose mother had told her
what we had done there. We persuaded Agnes to come down and interpret as
When we got back on the bus, most
of the men agreed that was, for us, the high point of our trip to Europe.
As they took turns at the microphone they described how vulnerable they
had felt as they took the assault boats down that brilliantly lighted hillside
to the water under heavy artillery fire from across the river; and as they
came back from across the river with prisoners to seek shelters in the
cellars of the village houses. "It felt like they were all aiming at me."
On Tuesday we entered Germany. Trier
is Germany's oldest city, dating from the first century before Christ.
A Roman bridge is still in use on a main road of the town. After Trier,
going towards our hotel in Koblenz, we traveled a Roman road built by Constantine;
very narrow, through a tiny village in the Mosel valley, heading for a
bridge site at Moselkern.
The 150th had built a 378- foot heavy pontoon bridge
at Moselkern, and I had raided a beer garden and picked up enough wine
for the platoon.
What a change as we crossed the border
into Germany. Everything was fast. At our hotel in Koblenz our evening
dinner took half an hour, from salad through dessert, and was just as elegant
and delicious as the three-hour dinners in France! We went up to our room
on the top floor. It had been completely renovated, with sky-lights and
wood paneling. Opening the skylight, we could look out at the Mosel River.
The beds were single beds, immaculately done up, with one quilt--an eider
puff, actually--that was shorter than I am and not much wider. The temperature
was such that you needed some cover, but not that much; so all night you
were hanging an arm or a leg out from under the covers, trying to cool
On to Oppenheim, where we built the
first bridges across the Rhine to allow Patton to proceed with his tanks
and infantry. We were billeted in a wine merchant's house and down in the
cellar were big wooden barrels full of wine aging. I took the owner down
into the cellar (with my rifle) and, in case the wine had been poisoned,
I had him siphon out some wine and drink it. Then I had to taste it. Before
we were through, we were friends, and all the guys knew they could get
all the wine they wanted from down in the barrels, and we had mentioned
which ones were the best. Now he had bottled a substantial supply of wine
which we took out to the road where the Fourth Armored was passing to go
across our bridge. We gave bottles of wine to the men on the tanks and
jeeps and half-tracks and the armored cars that went by. Forty-one years
later, on a golf course at Myrtle Beach, I met a man who had received one
of those bottles. Lately I found that one of the members of the VFW in
Avon CT also got a bottle. We march together every year in the Memorial
At Oppenheim we saw (in 1984) the
modern army's bridging already in place at the sides of the Rhine. All
they had to do was move it into position and tie it together. We changed
money there in a bank; then we went for a ride down the Rhine on an excursion
boat. We went past the Loreley, and saw many castles.
Enroute to Bayreuth we stopped in
Nurnberg, shopped, and went up into the new Nurnberg Tower and looked over
the construction that had taken place since we were there last. We also
saw the building in which the Nurnberg trials were held after World War
Then we went on to Regensburg where
we were billeted in that German artillery outfit and rode horses through
the bombed out aircraft factory buildings. Faile and I were on detached
service with an artillery unit working with German POW'S. One of them cut
his SS taboo out from under his arm with his pocketknife!
We had a tour of Regensburg on the
Danube by boat, then had lunch on an Austrian steamer built in 1865. The
medieval stone arch bridge in Regensburg is the longest in the world. It
has fifteen arches. In Colonel Reagan's ODYSSEY WITH PATTON he states that
most of the officials we worked with here were elderly and maimed or disfigured
from the war. One reported
that when the German SS troops were scorching the earth
near the end of the war the citizens tried to prevent destruction of their
old stone arch bridge. In answer, half the town council was gunned down
in front of the others, and part of the bridge was destroyed.
In Straubing we found our bridge site
by remembering a mural on the wall of a building; still there, forty years
later! The war was over when we built this one. It was built for two reasons:
1.) to keep us busy while we waited for passage home
or to the Pacific Theatre; and
2.) to build up the civilian economy. It was to be a
permanent bridge, but they were working with equipment unsuited to the
job. Ninety-foot beams had to be dragged to the site by hand; then there
was no equipment to stand them up with. Later when we were trying to blow
debris out of the navigation channel, a German couple who were trying to
repair their tile roof fought a losing battle. Every time they would get
a section of tiles in place, another blast of TNT would go off in the river
and the tiles would dance merrily in the sun. The bridge only lasted a
short time, because there were no fenders to protect it from ice damage
in winter, but it gave the German population time to construct a permanent
One day I asked Colonel Reagan why
he was always walking around with packets of vegetable seeds. He was giving
them to the German people because they are almost impossible to buy over
there. You have to grow your own seeds.
We stopped in Heidelberg and saw the
ruins of Heidelberg Castle. At Saarbrucken we held a farewell party. At
Luxembourg Airport we said goodbye to Carlos and Agnes, and the red bus
which was blue We enjoyed our fortieth anniversary battle sites tour, but
I have always wished we had had a driver from the 150th with us. During
the war, we could only see where we had been, from the back of the trucks;
not where we were going! As it was, we picked up a bit of culture, and
Agnes and Carlos learned a bit about combat veterans.