John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2021

Colleville and the American Cemetery: Part Three if My Normandy Chronicles

We receive a warm welcome once we finally reach our Colleville B&B. The women who run it  treat us to sandwiches, cheese, wine and Calvados. Although warm and friendly, our B&B is small, I mean, really small. Except for Mike and Peggy, the four of us are rookies when it comes to casual European  accommodations. We finally understand what, “En Suite” means. As we relax over wine and cheese, our hosts explain that only one of the rooms has its own bathroom or, as it is said, is furnished en suite. Since Don and Helen already paid their dues, that room  belongs to them.

Our room rate is FF 120, or $21. Mary Ann and I take one look at the size of the bed and agree, there is no way we can sleep together in that tiny thing. Separate rooms are in order. Since we are their only guests, our hosts jump at my request for a second bedroom.

The shower presents a different challenge. Our hosts have booked a restaurant for us directly behind Omaha Beach. Showers and quasi-dress clothes are imperatives. The communal shower is tucked into a corner of the common bathroom. I must enter through two doors sideways as they are cattycornered to each other. I successfully squeeze in, but, once inside, movement is difficult and, of course, I drop the mini bar of soap. I do succeed in showering despite my vison of knocking the stall over in my attempt to retrieve my bar of soap. When I relate this story later at dinner, Helen takes delight and relief in explaining: “The same thing happened to me.”

There is only one taxi in town, so we travel in two parties of three. We men go first so we can correct any problems. Fortunately, there aren’t any, and all is in good order. The restaurant is charming, and the food and drink are to our liking. Over dinner, we make the decision not to hike the next day. Peggy has scheduled us to walk 14 miles to Grandcamp-Maisy, our next destination. But after enduring the toll from today’s 12-mile slog,  we decide we need a break. Besides, we want to visit Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. We agree, instead to take a bus to our next B&B.

After dinner ends, the taxi returns to transport the ladies first. Don, Mike and I retreat to the bar where we meet Jean-Pierre Chedal-Anglay, who speaks to us in English and invites us to visit his summer home in the adjoining town of Vierville. We explain to this charming man in his seventies that time will not permit us to visit him.

I excuse myself to step outside so I can read the inscription on a nearby monument I noticed when we first arrived. Its message, in French and English gives me pause: At this place they called Omaha Beach, the Allies began the liberation of Europe on the 6th of June 1944.

When I return to the restaurant, Mike has a glass of 25-year-old Calvados waiting for me courtesy of M. Chedal-Anglay. As we enjoy this treat, the owner, not to be outdone, pours each of us a sample of a of a 45-year-old version. God is good and what a wonderful way to end a brilliant day. I mention to Mike and Don, “Colleville may be the last town in France where the people still express a debt of gratitude for America’s sacrifices on June 6, 1944.”

Monday, October 23, 2000. We enjoy a continental breakfast and a delightful conversation with the owner of our B&B that Peggy translates. We discover that she became a grandmother last night. Her new grandchild was born in Bayeux. She will drive there today after she delivers our luggage to our next stop in in Grandcamp-Maisy.

I realize from the many photographs that line the dining room walls that her family has owned this inn for many years.

Later, when we leave to visit the American Cemetery, we pass the local Catholic church’s  graveyard,  I note an inscription on one of the first headstone we pass. It explains that the deceased was executed by the Nazis in 1941 for being a member of the resistance. His family name is the same as the family that owns the B&B. I wonder what the newborn will come to know about this patriot.

We reach the American cemetery just after 10 am giving us a bit more than two hours to visit before the bus to Grandcamp-Maisey arrives at 12:15 pm. It is a remarkably solemn and a historical place that evokes my emotional response for the sacrifices made by all who rest there.

As I walk around the perfectly groomed grass field, I come across Lieutenant General Lesley McNair’s resting place. He died on July 25, 1944, one of 110 GIs who lost their lives to friendly fire when our own bombers executing their mission to destroy the German’s front line, dropped their bombs short of the target and on our own lines. The same simple cross or Star od David that marks every other Gi’s resting place, marks his. Death doesn’t differentiate duty and service.

I find a semi-circular wall that closes off one border of the cemetery. It is dedicated to all the GIs declared Missing in Action or MIA during this campaign. I decide to walk it end to end and as I do, I am struck by the number of names of soldiers who belonged to the 262nd Regiment of the 66th  Infantry Division that have been engraved on the wall for those missing in action. When I return to New York, I discover that the 262nd had boarded the troopship, SS Leopoldville, in England for passage to Cherbourg.

On Christmas Day, a German U-Boat torpedoed the transport within sight of its destination. A breakdown in communications between the ship and shore delayed rescue until it was almost too late. The soldiers waited for rescue in their combat gear. Landing craft arrived to rescue the lucky ones, but when a key bulkhead gave way, 14 officers and 748 enlisted men drowned. Since their bodies were claimed by the sea, they will forever be MIA.

“Sad, makes you want to laugh. Sad, makes you want to cry.”

The weather turns as we walk to the bus stop. The bus arrives on time and the half-hour ride to Grandcamp-Maisy  sure beats an endless 14-mile hike. Our B&B,  “La Ferme du Colombier,” is just opposite the last stop on the bus’s route.  

Arromanches to Colleville-sur-Mer: Part Two of My Normandy Chronicles

Sunday: October 22, 2000. Restless, I awake before dawn. As quietly as possible, I leave Mary Ann for the continental breakfast being served in the Hotel La Marine’s nearly empty dining room. I choose a table overlooking the English Channel. In the pre-dawn light, relics from D-Day begin to reveal themselves in the morning mist, remnants of concrete caissons the allies sank to provide the breakwater for an artificial harbor to support the invasion. The forces of nature; time, the tides and countless storms have moved these enormous caissons so that they are scattered about in a haphazard fashion.

I return to our room with a hot cup of coffee, artificial sweetener and a croissant for my bride who I find awake and waiting for the excuse I provide to start her day.

Today, we will hike 12 miles west from Gold Beach, the eastern most of the three British landing beaches to Omaha, one of the two American beaches. That is our plan, but as the saying goes: “Plans go to hell after you take the first punch.”

The first half of our hike is a pleasure. Once again, Peggy has arranged for our luggage to meet us at a B&B in Colleville and we three couples, Don and Helen, Mike and Peggy and Mary Ann and I gather outside to see our baggage depart. A light mist engulfs us as we set out in hats, rain jackets jeans and hiking boots. We pass new vacation homes under construction as we leave town. Ironically, just below this new construction, we pass a sealed German gun emplacement with its gun port trained on the town below.

The trail leads us to the top of the bluff where we hike while the sun slowly burns off the mist. The views are spectacular. We take them in as the sun and clouds flirt with each other all morning long allowing us to stow our rain jackets in our knapsacks. The cliffs below the trail must fall at least 200 feet to the beach, but it appears that the French do not concern themselves with lawsuits as we encounter few warning signs or any fences to prevent hikers from getting too close to the cliffs.

We locate other artifacts from the war at Longues-sur-Mer. The first structure we see is a reinforced concrete command bunker close to the cliff. It is in remarkable condition and we wonder if this is the bunker used in the movie, The Longest Day? The guys can’t resist going inside to look out of the narrow opening and reenacting the scene from the movie when the area commander first discovers the invasion fleet.

Further along the trail, we find four additional bunkers, each the home of a German 88 mm cannon. These cannons were the Nazi’s most feared guns effective against troops, tanks and aircraft. GIs called the sound that their incoming shells made, “screaming meemies” and once you heard that whistling sound, you were in trouble if not already hunkered down.

It is at this point in our journey that we begin to realize that this is going to be a long day. There are several places along the trail where valleys break the bluff requiring descents and ascents. Here is where mud comes into play making the going difficult. Both Don and I slip and fall, fortunately, without injury.

We do catch a break. In the distance, we see a breakwater jutting out into the channel. As we draw closer, the fishing town of Port-en-Bessin reveals itself. A groomed set of dirt steps leads us down from the bluff and into town. We observe several small German fortifications and the remnants of a trench system on our way down.

We stop for lunch in Port-en-Bessin and eat in an outdoor Brasserie. This is the exact time and place when I discover my favorite French sandwich, the croque monsieur, their exquisite interpretation of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

A perfect interlude, but far too brief. By now we are forced to accept the reality that we still have many miles to go before we can rest. Worse, time isn’t on our side.

We press on, once again climbing the bluff. We follow a detour around the perimeter golf course and are surprised to spot a concrete bunker right next to a fairway. Once we return to the coast, we spot a modern military facility surrounded by barbwire. The building has a tall tower that supports all variety of antennas and dishes. Two men in uniform appear and enter an outside walkway observing our passage. We cease talking, put one foot in front of the other and refrain from taking photographs. Paranoia runs deep.

The trail turns inland following the contour of the land. We pass farms and cows grazing in the fields. Fatigue sets in leading us to lose the trail in a nameless town. We separate and I continue about 150 yards before I am called back. Mike reversed course to find a by passed marker about a ¼ mile before the town. We return to the trail that follows a shallow but steep stream. After a rough time descending the trail, it turns left forcing us to climb a hill back to that same town. At the top, we reach the same road I had explored. We are only 25 feet from where I turned around. Frustrated, I am mad as hell, but I keep it to myself since there is nowhere to direct it. The trail leads our sagging spirits back toward the beach.

Daylight is fading as we reach Omaha Beach. We pass the closed gates of the American Cemetery. Darkness drops upon us as we reach a highway, but cannot find a sign, any sign directing us to Colleville. Finally, I spot a sign and I ask Peggy, “What does that say?”

Peggy replies: “Thank you for coming.”

I wonder what’s on the other side of that sign. I walk away from my friends and turn around to read the other side. Sure enough, even I can understand what it says in French: “Welcome to Colleville!” Another incident to add to our memories of what makes this trip unique.

Peggy approaches a nearby home. The residents gladly allow her to call our B&B which we locate it in short order. All is well that ends well.             

A Force Majeure

 Dear reader, please disregard my message that “On the Outside Looking In,” would not publish this Wednesday, April 21.

My plan, to be away in New Hampshire, was trumped by a spring snow and ice storm that dumped about twelve inches on our house in Marlow. This storm also caused multiple power outages. We postponed our trip to open Little House for the 2021 season.  

As a result, Part Two of Our Normandy Chronicles will be published this Wednesday.

John Delach     

Trip to Bayeux and to the Sea: Part One of My Normandy Chronicles

Friday, October 20, 2000. Sunrise arrives late in Paris this time of the year and it is still dark at 7:00 AM. The dreary weather enhances the darkness while the lights from cafes illuminate the early commuters on their way to work.

Negotiating our way past these men and women, we walk to the Gare St. Lazare to catch the train to Bayeux. A long stone staircase provides an obstacle for our luggage, especially for Don and Helen’s oversized suitcase that we call Big Bertha. We men manhandle it up to the second floor only to discover the escalator we no longer need. We find our train and the six of us settle into our reserved first-class compartment. Our journey will take about two hours and soon we are entertained by a group of French women in the next compartment. Their animated conversation is punctuated with gales of laughter that grows in volume and hilarity as they continue. We try to peek, but they have drawn the curtains and it is not until they prepare to detrain that we see them. Four plainly dressed middle aged women and we can only imagine what memories, thoughts or circumstances led them to carry on as they did.

The train continues onto Caen and then Bayeux.

 Anticipating difficulty with our luggage, Peggy made reservations at a hotel close to the station when she coordinated our trip. In the parking lot we see the “Hotel de la Gare,” for the first time. Resembling a rooming house more than a hotel, it is a rudimentary building constructed of wood and stone with oddly shaped rooms with and without bathrooms. Mary Ann and I draw a room that has its own bath as do Mike and Peggy. Helen and Don are not so lucky. The room rate is FF298 or $40 that includes a continental breakfast. We take to referring to this hotel as “The Fleabite.”

We eat lunch in town before visiting the museum that is home to the Bayeux Tapestry, the historical work of art that chronicles William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England. The lengthy tapestry is set in a continuous cabinet that meanders through several rooms Mary Ann and I rush through it but are a bit shocked to discover the fate of King Harold, the English king after he lost the Battle Hastings. It appears the victors played roughly back then as Harold was cut into sixes.

Don, Mike and I visit Bayeux’s World War II museum and note that the British liberated what remained of the city on June 7, 1944, one day after the invasion. Afternoon rain cancels our plan to visit the British cemetery. Oh well, it’s back to the fleabag bar.

That evening, we dine at the Hotel Notre Dame, a small, but charming hotel in the center of Bayeux. Peggy is familiar with this hotel. While planning the trip, she had investigated staying there, but found it difficult to contact them. When we arrive, the hotel manager greets Peggy profusely. Recognizing Peggy’s last name from the dinner reservations, she exclaims” Madam Cruise, I am so sorry that we did not communicate better and that you are not staying with us”.

She asks where we are staying and when Peggy tells her, I swear- I see her eyes cross as she attempts to keep her composure.

The funny thing is that both Mary Ann and I sleep soundly and only awaken when Don knocks at our door the following morning.

 After breakfast in the fleabite, we pack and bring our bags to the lobby. A local taxi service will transport them to the Hotel La Marine in Arromanches, eight miles away. Arromanches was the site of Gold Beach where British and Canadian forces landed on D Day. Unlike our luggage that take the easy way out, we plan to hike to the sea on a marked trail that runs between farmers’ fields. We quickly become adept at identifying trail markers, although we do become lost a few times. Fortunately, between our compass and the map, we regain the trail.

It is rainy season and mud is an issue, but we don’t let it discourage us. Hiking to the Normandy beaches is our goal and our adventure exceeds our expectations. Near noon time, we reach a town with a café serving ham, cheese and butter sandwiches on French bread with wine or Stella Artois on tap. Helen, who disdains butter, when confronted on this being her only choice, replies, “God wants me to have it.”

The afternoon offers us interesting encounters. We meet a group of men and women on horseback who dress in medieval costumes. They have just finished lunch served on folding tables by a man who dresses like a chauffeur or a waiter. Several empty wine bottles are in evidence. We discover their group are part of an equestrian rally set out to collect specific items and score points.

After climbing a rise, we come to a meadow elevated above the surrounding terrain. In the distance, we take in our first glimpse of the English Channel. Before we can react, nature trumps this view in a field adjoining the trail. Two calves have been born shortly before our arrival. The first calf has already risen to its feet and is trying to reach its mother to begin feeding. The second calf remains on the ground having difficulty standing up. First the mother nudges it, and when that doesn’t help, a second cow nudges the calf to provide encouragement. A third cow joins in and, after several more attempts, the calf succeeds in standing up. Quite a sight for us city people.

Finally, we reach the bluffs above Gold Beach and make our way down to the hotel. Our luggage has arrived in good order, and even though this is off-season, the hotel offers us a satisfactory dinner.

I decide that Calvados will be my after-dinner brandy of record for the remainder of this trip. Between the fatigue from today’s journey and the thoughts about walking the bluffs behind the beaches to Colleville, 12 miles  to the south, we call it a night.

“On the Outside Looking In,” will not publish on April  21st  and Part 2 of “My Normandy Chronicles,” will appear on April 28th.            

Once Upon a Time in the State of New York

How good is your memory? How good are you at political trivia? Before I begin, a word of caution: If you are unfamiliar with mid-Twentieth Century New York State politics and politicians: Fuhgeddabouit!

We begin with the election of Kenneth Keating to the United States Senate in 1958. Born in Lima, NY in 1900, Keating, a moderate Republican, was elected to the House of Representatives five times beginning in 1946. He defeated New York City’s well-known DA, Frank Hogan, in that 1958 election.

Keating and Governor Nelson Rockefeller both joined Jacob Javits, elected to the US Senate in 1956, to form a powerful triangle of moderate / liberal Republicans with national aspirations.

By 1962, I was coming of age politically. I had grown up instinctively a Republican, so I thought that these were my guys although, in my heart, I knew we weren’t on the same page, but Keating gave me hope. Through sources that I have never identified, he was the first politician who broke the story that led to the Cuban missile crisis.

Two years later my hope vanished when Keating led the revolt by part of the New York State delegation to the 1964 GOP convention by walking out after the delegates nominated my personal hero, Barry Goldwater, for president.

A point of trivia. Goldwater’s running mate was another upstate congressman, Bill Miller. Years later, Miller appeared in a TV ad for American Express that went something like this: “Hello, do you know who I am? I once ran for vice president of the United States.”

“ No, you don’t know who I am, that’s why I carry the American Express Card “

The commercial then displayed a blank Amex card on which the name Bill Miller was printed before our eyes.”

In a bit of irony, Keating also lost his seat in 1964 to Robert F. Kennedy. Four years later, RFK was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles just after winning the California primary.

Enter Charles Goodell. Who was Charles Goodell? The easy answer is: The father of Roger Goodell, the reigning Commissioner of the National Football League.

In 1968, Charles Goodell was yet another obscure upstate congressman who Governor Rockefeller appointed to fill the remaining two years of the late senator’s term of office.

That same year, the author, publisher and commentator, William F. Buckley, ran for mayor of New York City, in part, to raise the visibility of the nascent Conservative Party. When asked what he would do if declared the winner, Mr. Buckley replied: “Demand a recount.”

But Buckley’s serendipitous campaign accomplished his goal, it put the Conservative Party on the map. When I turned 21 in 1965, I registered as a Conservative.

As the bi-election of 1970 drew closer, WFB, called his older sibling, James (Jim) to suggest he run on the Conservative Party line for Goodell’s seat. According to a piece in a recent issue of National Review (NR), Jim’s reaction was, “That’s ridiculous.”

Ordinarily, Jim Buckley’s reaction would have been bang-on. Running on the Conservative line might draw less than 15% of the vote. The hope was the Democratic candidate would mirror Goodell’s liberalism creating a possible path for a conservative.

True to form, the Democrats nominated Richard Ottinger, a down-state Congressman to face off against Goodell. When James Buckley accepted the Conservative Party’s nomination for the Senate, we, the citizens of the Empire State had a bona fide, three-way race; two liberals against a conservative.

The stars must have been aligned: Like the 1969 Mets, the 1969 Jets and the 1970 Knicks; when the final tally of 5,893,894  votes were countered, Jim Buckley had done the impossible in the State of New York: He had been elected to the United Sates Senate by the following vote count:

Buckley: 2,288,190 or 38%

Ottinger: 2,171,232 or 36%

Goodell: 1,434,472 or 24%

Oh, happy days! I was ecstatic. It was the happiest vote I’d ever cast for a US Senate candidate.

The reality of being a conservative in New York returned with a thud in 1976. Daniel Patrick Moynihan cruised to victory in the general election with 54.1% of the vote while Jim Buckley, now running on both the Republican and Conservative lines, fell short with 44.9%.

And so it goes, although I will always wonder what would have happened if the second-place finisher in the Democratic primary, Bella Abzug, had managed to overcome her 10,000 shortfall to Moynihan? Abzug’s controversial ceaseless attack mode did her in in several runs for office and pitted against the genteel Buckley; well, if I had been a betting man, I’d have put my money on Jim Buckley.

But to be fair let me quote the words of one of my favorite call girls, Mandy Rice Davies, to put my opinion in perspective: “He would say that, wouldn’t he!”