FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 2010: Omaha Beach to Saint-Lo, France
Robert J. DeMatio reached the Normandy coast in a Liberty ship built in Savannah, Georgia. My oldest brother, Greg, and I pull up to the Pointe du Hoc visitor center in a 2011 Cadillac CTS-V coupe built in Lansing, Michigan, about 140 miles south of Ogemaw County, where we were all born and raised. Famously, 225 U.S. Army Rangers scaled the imposing cliffs here at Pointe du Hoc, a windswept spit of land dividing Omaha and Utah Beaches, on D-Day. Suffering heavy casualties, they secured one of the first Allied toeholds on the Continent. On this sunny day sixty-six years later, as we stand on a concrete German bunker in the bomb-cratered field and gaze down to the narrow strip of beach below, we can hardly imagine the bravery it took for those Rangers to ascend.
Today, two days before the D-Day anniversary, the former battleground is swarming with activity. Walking toward us with medals blazing is British veteran Eddie Moore, who was in a support regiment for machine guns that landed on Omaha Beach a couple of days after RJD. "A storm kept us away for days," he recalled as several generations of his family proudly stood by. "We sailed up and down the Channel six or seven times."
We pile back into the CTS-V and follow our Vauxhall Insignia wagon support vehicle, driven by London-based photographer Martyn Goddard and the fourth member of our entourage, fellow Michigander Al Johnson, to the village of Vierville-sur-Mer, at Omaha Beach. A gregarious young Frenchman, Vincent Hautin, is stage-directing an Allied-camp reenactment. He's got privates digging foxholes, military-issue tents, and, of course, a small fleet of military vehicles. A former tour guide and now an employee of France's national park service, he rattles off historical data about the Normandy invasion in perfect English. He even knows the exact day in the summer of 1943 when his three-axle, twelve-man Dodge military truck was built at the Mound Road plant in Detroit. "There are still about 20,000 Jeeps in France," he tells us, "about five or six thousand GMCs, and at least that many Dodges."
(Top: Cadillac CTS-V coupe parked in Allied camp reenactment. Top Right: View from Pointe du Hoc, where 225 U.S. Army Rangers climbed toward the German guns.)