Omaha Beach stretches several miles, so Greg and I can only surmise where, exactly, our dad actually landed. We have lunch on the veranda of L'Omaha restaurant, near the big monument. Still suffering from jet lag, Al reclines the passenger seat of the Cadillac for a catnap while the rest of us linger over coffee. He awakes to find the Caddy surrounded by people taking pictures of the only CTS coupe in Europe.
In Isigny-sur-Mer, we gas up our General Motors steeds near the mouth of the Vire River, a key geographic marker in the early Allied incursions into Normandy, before heading toward Lison, where the 118th "flopped down for our first night of sleep on French soil, at about 0200 on 19 June 1944." Greg, the family historian, is obsessed with finding and speaking with people who might have been around sixty-six years earlier. This quest requires diplomacy, because God forbid that we assume some sixty-five-year-old French matron is actually in her seventies and remembers the summer of '44.
The narrow, twisty road leading into Lison is lined with the hedgerows that are ubiquitous in Normandy but made fighting so difficult for the troops. I spot an elderly couple working in a garden along the main street of the village. Maybe they qualify for Greg's interrogation. Luckily, friend Pierre Giraudon, who's hosting our entourage at his home nearby, has joined us and serves as interpreter for Monsieur and Madame Rene Le Boeuf. Asked if he remembers any American GIs in the village, Monsieur sweeps his hand toward the nearby fields: "They were everywhere, in the meadows all around here. They made big holes to sleep in. The German army was on the other side of the Vire, only four kilometers away. I was seventeen years old," he continues, "working on the farm with my parents. An American officer asked my parents not to give the soldiers any milk, because they were drugged, and the milk would counteract that." [Soldiers were commonly given stimulants.] Madame Le Boeuf, for her part, grew up in Formigny, very close to Omaha Beach, and recalls bullets crossing through their house and paratroopers landing in their village.
(Top: On the street in Brecey, not far from Le Grand-Celland. Top right: On the way to Lison, where Rene Le Boeuf (bottom right) was a teenager when GIs liberated the village. His wife recalls paratroopers landing in her childhood village of Formigny.)