08 June, 2012 – Day Nine: “The Forgotten Cemetery of Normandy”
By Westleigh J. Roberts
Following a late, final night at our chateau in the good company of some of the cadets, this morning’s early start was not entirely welcome, but still occurred without incident. By 0745 hours we were helping the veterans pack up from their chateau and board the bus to head south toward St. James.
After a long week the three-hour bus ride provided a nice respite for some of the veterans who needed extra rest while the rest of the veterans and cadets enjoyed one another’s company and sharing music from different eras on their mp3 players.
Our first stop of the day was one of the most beautiful we have had on this program. We pulled up to Brittany American Cemetery, formerly known as St. James Cemetery. Begun by Gen. Patton and his 3rd Army, this cemetery and the area around it marks the point where the allies broke through the difficult hedgerow fighting and into the rolling landscape of central France.
The cemetery, home to some 4,000 American heroes is situated around a large stone chapel with very ornate maps detailing the action that occurred around this area decorating the walls. We were also able to ascend to the top of the bell tower, from which we were able to see the entire cemetery. It was breathtaking to see the thousands of white crosses laid out in ranks and columns, still in formation and standing proud—each standing for a man that veterans like Conrade Loehofer, Al Villa, Leslie Harris, and the others that we are escorting would call the “real” heroes, the ones who did not come home.
In the first row of column A we came across a one of the rued markers that is likely the only in the world like it. Across its white face read “Here Rest In Honored Glory Two Comrades In Arms Known But To God.” We later discovered that these two comrades were on a B-17 that, like so many others, was shot down. However, when they crashed, somehow the two bodies were fused together. When they were found they were neither separable nor identifiable. Stories like these strike into our hearts the gravity of war, and the seriousness with which these men approach their return. “Lucky” Luckadoo will tell you that he did not end up under a cross or on a wall of the missing for that simple reason, he was lucky. Bill Colwell says it is because he has a praying mother and believes God was watching over him. Either way, we are blessed to have the remaining men that we do and I am honored to have the opportunity to interact with them while they are still here to share their stories.
The rest of the day found us traveling to Paris via Mortain, a town that was nearly demolished when the Nazis counterattacked and tried to cut off the Allied advance. The veterans were also very happy to have a brief pit-stop at a McDonalds along the way, and to have some semi-American cuisine.
Tomorrow our group will organize into an assortment of parties to visit various locations such as the Musee de l’Armee, also known as Napoleon’s Tomb, as well as the Arc d’Triumph, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and other sites. It promises to be an exciting day, and a wonderful conclusion to our time abroad.