When I was a teenager, my paternal grandmother took me on a three week trip to France. One of our stops was the American Cemetery in Omaha Beach. Nearly 30 years later, this is one of the few places I remember in detail. Today there is a visitors center but then there were just the endless marble memorials to the fallen soldiers. There was, in other words, very little context. The men with whom I was touring in 1981 all cried.
Eva gave us a little history of the crosses. I say crosses because there are more than 9,000 of them and only 149 Jewish stars. They are all made out of Italian Carrera marble. On the back of the crosses at the bottom is the number of the soldier´s dog tags. On the front, each memorial bears the name of the soldier, the date of death, his state, and his battalion. Unlike the British tombstones, there is no birthdate inscribed. Four women are buried at the Omaha Beach cemetery. Another 4,000 American soldiers are buried in the St. James cemetery on the way to Mont St. Michel.
In 1948, the American government gave the families of the fallen soldiers the option of moving the remains from temporary grave sites in France to home cemeteries in the US or to the Omaha Beach site. Forty percent elected to remain in France. Thirty five thousand American soldiers in total lost their lives in the Normandy campaign.
Today you can tell if a soldier´s family has visited recently by the stains on the marble. Sand from Omaha Beach (formerly called Plage dÓr) is rubbed into the etchings on the memorials so the inscription will stand out in photos. Quentin Roosevelt´s grave had recently been visited, judging by the stain on the cross. The only grave from WW1, Quentin is buried next to his brother Theodore. Theodore´s inscription needs no sand – his letters are emblazoned in gold because he is a Medal of Honor winner. Awarded posthumously, Teddy Jr. is one of three men with this distinction. He died of a heart attack 6 weeks after D-Day. Brothers are placed next to each other in the cemetery as is a pair of father and son casualties. The rest of the soldiers are placed randomly, their grave markers lining up in perfect harmony … like soldiers.
We left the Omaha Beach cemetery as it was shutting down for the night. The flag was lowered and folded by a random American visitor who knew how to fold it, the stars bundling up the stripes in a neat triangle. Taps was played over a loudspeaker:
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky,
Safely rest, all is well,
God is nigh.
Mr. Understanding used to sing Taps to Thing 1 when he would put her to bed. It was a song on one of those, now antique, story books that would play songs when you pushed a button.
On the way home to our farmhouse accommodations we passed a small memorial where 10 men lost their lives. One Pfc. Theodore Mister of Charlie company, 38th Battalion, a native of Baltimore, MD lost his life in the company of Theo Master, sucessfully pushing the Germans off a small, but strategic, creek. During the Battle of the Moulin des Rondelles on June 13, 1944, Mr. Mister led his company across the creek saying, ¨Come on, follow me!¨ He left behind a wife of two years and three month old daughter.
Our day ended on a cheerful note, Mr. Understanding folding a neat triangle of his own. For a small wager, he bet me he could make a cootie catcher. Thing 1 had made one at the dinner table out of a paper napkin. Mr. Understanding make a cootie catcher? He proceeded to precisely pleat a paper placemat into an enviable cootie catcher. The things you don’t know about your spouse of nearly 20 years. Now that is what I call random, dude.
To book Eva for your own tour, write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the website. To check out the house we stayed in, contact Martin Fletcher by going to this site. At the end of a road, Les Quatre Vents was a special treat and the garden pure paradise. It was an excellent choice for three generations!