The Bedford Boys
We began our next day at the west end of Omaha Beach at exit D-1 draw. This was the area where the men of 116th Regiment of the 29th Division landed. Here Geert told us the story of Company A. Many of the men of Company A came from the same town of Bedford, Virginia. The families of Bedford suffered a tremendous lost on D-Day. Within 15 minutes of landing there, most of the men of Company A were cut to pieces by intense German gunfire. Of the 200-plus men in the company, only a couple dozen survived. The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia.
Omaha Beach “Easy Red”
The highlight of our tour was our next stop. We went to the exact area of Omaha where Dad and Dee landed on June 6, 1944. Their sector was known as “Easy Red” and their exit from the beach was called E-1 draw. A German gun bunker still stands low on the bluff at E-1 draw. This stretch of Omaha is pretty much undisturbed; it’s actually just below the American Cemetery. In fact, you can see the cemetery flagpoles above the trees when you walk to the water’s edge and look down the beach. You can also see the First Division Monument on the bluff in the distance.
While we were there, Dad and Dee decided to take off their shoes, roll up their pants and walk out to the water. The tide was pretty low, quite a bit lower than what they had on D-Day. The area became more familiar to them when they got to the water’s edge and looked back at the beach. Dee recalled on D-Day that he saw a Navy destroyer cruising parallel to the shore firing its guns at German strongpoints just above the beach. The destroyer managed to get a few rounds in the opening of one the gun bunkers, killing those inside. Dee was pretty sure the pillbox that remains at E-1 today was the same one they saw the destroyer take out 60-years ago. Their memories of the D-Day landing are somewhat clouded by time but they do recall some of the more disturbing details like dead bodies on the beach and in the water. They also recall walking by the same wounded soldier as they left the beach. He was missing one of his legs and warned everyone to watch out for land mines in the area. During the actual landing, on the beach, and the rest of June 6th, Dad and Dee never saw each other. It wasn’t until the next day, after Dee got wounded by German machinegun fire, that they got a chance to see each other for few minutes before Dee was shipped back to a hospital in England.
It was an historic moment, Dad and Dee were back again 60 years later. But this time it was peaceful, just the sound of the waves and wind. James and I had our video cameras going from two different angles, trying to capture the moment. The others had their digital cameras snapping away. There were other American tourists walking nearby who stopped to ask questions and even took a few pictures of the Bowles Twins themselves. Our whole time there was very special. We saw a piece of history up close. It was a real place where real people fought and died. We spent a fair amount of time there but still it didn’t seem long enough. As we headed back toward the van, James paused for a moment. Looking back across the sand he said, “I could stay right here all day.” I knew exactly what he meant.
Caumont and Sallen
Back in 1944, after getting off the beach and fighting inland, Dad and the other men of the 1st Division spent several weeks digging in around the town of Caumont. It was our next stop and as we approached Geert pointed out the military importance of Caumont, it’s on high ground overlooking the whole surrounding area.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Caumont where we met the Marie brothers. These two French brothers were 11 and 13 years old when American soldiers liberated their town. Their childhood home was used by the 18th Regiment as a field hospital. They have many memories of those days. They recalled the first time they saw Americans approaching the area, even from a distance they knew something was different. Their approach was quiet because of their rubber-sole boots, unlike the Germans whose boots made a frightening sound as they marched. They remember the Americans being very kind to them.
After eating lunch we all headed to the nearby town of Sallen. With the help of the Marie brothers and the Battlebus folks, a special ceremony had been arranged at Sallen’s town hall. There the mayor presented Dad & Dee each with 60th Anniversary chest badges. These were the same badges that were to be given during official ceremonies in June but Dad & Dee got theirs a full week ahead of everyone else. The badges were individually numbered and had their names engraved on the back. After that, we had cake and apple cider (the mayor’s own brew) along with some of the locals from Sallen. It was a good time and we enjoyed meeting everyone there. And Geert did a terrific job translating for us.
After saying “au revoir” to everyone at town hall, we then toured the surrounding area with the Marie brothers where we saw their childhood home among other things. Our last stop was at a man’s home that was used as General Huebner’s headquarters during the war. Mr. Savary was 17 years old at that time. His father was part of the French Resistance and would send information about German V2 rocket sites in the area to the Allies by carrier pigeon. His father was caught by the Germans, sent to a prison camp and was never heard from again. As a teen, he was also sent to a prison camp at the same time but was later let go. He still lives there at his childhood home, a complex of several old buildings which include an old church. He showed us a framed letter from General Huebner thanking his family for their help during the war.
It was meetings like this with local people that made our trip special. Everyone we met in Normandy was warm and friendly. We really appreciated the time the Marie brothers spent with us. Hearing stories from the French point of view gave us a more complete picture the war.
We had to get back to catch our train to Paris, so we said goodbye to the Marie brothers and Mr. Savary, then headed back to Bayeux. Geert took us by our B&B’s to pick up our luggage and then he dropped us off at the train station. He came inside to help me get the tickets and then said goodbye to each of us, shaking everyone’s hand. I believe he enjoyed our two days together as much as we did. Being the war buff that he is, the chance to be with WWII veterans was a thrill for him. He did an awesome job too.