La Pointe du Hoc

by John Delach

The last stop on the bus we take from outside the American Cemetery to Grandcamp-Maisy turns out to be opposite, La Ferme du Colombier, the inn / B&B where we will stay for the next two nights. It is quite a complex. In season, it is something like a resort, offering economy rooms and extensive camping facilities. Their appealing restaurant is also a bargain. We enjoy a late lunch and dinner there that day. Don, a CPA, calculates that the total cost for our rooms, lunch and dinner including eight bottles of wine is $125 per couple. Viva la France, viva Normandy!

After lunch, we set out to see if it is feasible to reach La Pointe du Hoc from Grandcamp-Maisy on foot. We discover that this is another fishing village and a coastal destination during the summer season. Many stores and restaurants are already closed for the season and display signs in their widows reminding the public that they will re-open next May.

A rainsquall strikes just as we leave town. We jointly decide that continuing this quest is a fool’s errand. We agree that returning to the B&B is our best course. Undoubtedly, this course of action contributes to the consumption of those eight bottles of wine.

Tuesday, October 24, 2000: We are scheduled to leave Normandy by van at  eleven a.m. with all our worldly luggage. Our next destination is, Pontorson, the town nearby the Abbey at Mont St. Michelle, the famous abbey located on an island with the same name. Today, a highway built on an artificial berm keeps it connected to the mainland even during high tides.

Again, I wake up early, a blessing rather than a curse as it allows me to make solo explorations. I make my way into town to buy Francs from an ATM. Twilight reveals a fishing town fully awake and engaged in the business of unloading catches and processing the fish for sale in town and boxing them in ice for loading into vans and trucks for delivery to other destinations.

The tide is high, the gates to the locks are open, and fishing boats continue to enter the port. On a covered part of the quay, fishmongers are already hard at work arranging fixed metal tables with  beds of ice and depositing a variety of fresh caught species for individual and commercial customers.

It seems that the entire town and surrounding communities have turned out to participate in the beehive like activity of unloading catches and separating these fish for sale locally and shipment to other destinations. I take it all in as I realize how lucky I am to enjoy this wonderful though ordinary experience.

Back at in inn, I join Mary Ann and our mates for breakfast. Fascinated by my telling of what the port was before dawn, we return only to find the activity has shifted and fish mongers are now busy selling the catches on this, the village’s fisherman’s market day.

We reassemble in the Inn’s courtyard, just before our van is scheduled to arrive. Peggy has a quiet conversation with the driver who agrees with her request that we make a stop at La Pointe du Hoc. Peggy is our hero for pulling this off and this opportunity is an excellent experience.

The struggle at La Pointe du Hoc played an important role in the D-day landings. The Germans had installed massive cannons at the top of these 100-foot cliffs and on June 6, 1944, 200 US Army Rangers using ropes and ladders scaled those cliffs to destroy those guns. Almost half the unit was lost or wounded taking the German positions. The site of this struggle is the memorial we are seeking.

The field of battle is well groomed, but it remains in the same condition as it was when the battle ended. Debris has been removed, but the shell and bomb holes remain as do the reinforced concrete fortifications, some blown apart and others, still standing intact. The bunker where the big guns were supposed to be mounted stands empty and damaged, the same way the rangers found it on D-Day. The Germans had removed those cannons to escape the heavy bombing attacks prior to the invasion. The irony is that they were unable to re-install these guns once the invasion began. Eventually the rangers discovered them laying under camouflage in a farmer’s field where they destroyed  those guns.

Such are the quirks of the battlefield. Still, those surviving rangers removed the Nazis from a strategic height that dominates Omaha Beach.

As we drive away from the Normandy beaches, we pass through St. Lo, the town where General George Patton’s Third Army began its massive offensive that would clear the Nazi army out of central France and Paris. Our visit to the Normandy beaches is a home run for all of us and I am pleased to remove it from my bucket list.