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. 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. 
    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 day. 
    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 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, 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 fortifications. 

    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 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, 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 is cheese!" 
    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 rubble. 
    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 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. 

    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 were everywhere. 
   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 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. 

    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 artifacts. 
    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 cathedrals! 
    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 we conversed. 
    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 down. 

    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 Day parade. 
    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 II. 
    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 bridge. 
    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.

Email: Click here for email
Back ButtonBack to trip index page