SATURDAY, JUNE 5, 2010: Saint-Lo to Lille, France
South out of Villedieu-les-Poeles, we're cutting through rolling green hills in classic Normandy countryside on D999, a well-maintained regional road. I hit the sport button for the CTS-V's chassis, and the Caddy is in its element, with a composed but not harsh ride. A guy standing in his driveway gives a thumbs up as we drift by. The "Le Celland" that RJD mentions actually consists of two adjacent, tiny, and very French villages, Le Grand-Celland and Le Petit-Celland. Both are anchored by handsome churches and look like they have hardly changed since 1944.
On 17 August, we moved over still more devastated country to Barenton, where the Calvados ran more freely than ever before and the boys started getting invitations out to dinner. Here we heard the glowing tales of the battle of Mortain and what a good job the division had done.
We can see the church steeple miles ahead as we speed along D47 toward Barenton, where a guy sitting at the stool next to us at a tabac tells us about a U.S. memorial just outside town. An American flag is waving over the roadside spot where, on August 8, 1944, three American GIs were killed. A compatriot who survived found the spot in 1999 and in 2006 had a memorial erected. A consistent pattern is emerging: RJD and the 118th were about eight or nine days behind some of the fiercest fighting.
On 24 August we moved through Saint-Barthelemy and Mortain, past the greatest destruction yet. In many places there were as many as six, eight, or ten tanks in a group knocked out.
The road into Mortain is a French classic, a long, gently sloping hill lined with a tall tree canopy. Martyn wants pictures and I am happy to oblige, running up and down repeatedly, smashing the throttle of the CTS-V and igniting its supercharged, 556-hp, 6.2-liter V-8. If people haven't noticed the Caddy coupe's sharply chiseled, American lines, they're sure going to hear this explosive exhaust.
Our new position was 1/4 mile west of Nonancourt, France...we set up in a nice park. This place is to be remembered for all the pretty French girls...We got quite a few fresh vegetables and went to church several times in the village.
(Top: Rolling into Le Grand-Celland. Right: Joe and Greg DeMatio point to their father's landing spot on the Normandy coast.)