Jun 22

Point du Hoc, Omaha Beach, Normandy American Cemetery

This was written for a Friday, two weeks ago. That’s the way of it around here for a bit as we go over our amazing travels. So, if you’d be so kind as to cast your mind back two weeks (and also 78 years ago) …

Like many panoramas, this one lives at the intersection between beautiful and enlightening and distorting. Like all panoramas on this site, if you click it, you can see the larger version. We were there two weeks ago.

We caught a morning train out of Paris to head west to Bayeux.

And in Bayeux we rented e-bikes to ride all over the beautiful countryside of Normandy. It is beautiful. We rode all over the countryside. And not all of it on roads. The Yankee suggested Normandy, and I said I wanted to go here, if we could, and after a lot of pedaling, this was our first stop for the day. (Note that upright stone just on the left margin.

If you stood at that stone and look left, you would see Utah Beach just beyond that point.

And if you stood at that sone and looked to your right, beyond the other point, you would see Omaha Beach.

And if you stood at that stone memorial, you’d be wear Ronald Reagan delivered one of the truly great speeches of his presidency.

Peggy Noonan had found his voice by then, and it didn’t hurt that the topic was such a dramatic moment, and the audience included some of the heroes he was talking about.

I remember reading about this anniversary, the 40th, in the second grade, before any of this made any sense to me. I remember a quote from one of the Rangers who was at that event. They’d taken them to the shore line and they looked up the cliff face in wonder. How in the world did we do that? That quote is now 38 years old, and as much as anything, I owe my awe to the moment to that awe of the men who did it.

The guns were located so that they could cover both Utah and Omaha. They could do terrible damage to the troops coming ashore, or to the vessels waiting off the coast. So they sent in the Army Rangers.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff planning Operation OVERLORD assigned the Rangers of the 2d and 5th Ranger Battalions, under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder and organized into the Provisional Ranger Group, the mission of destroying the enemy positions on the cliff top. Unbeknownst to Allied planners, the Germans failed to believe that U.S. military command would consider the cliff top accessible by sea. The Americans, however, considered it an accessible assault point and reasoned that with a well-trained force, soldiers could land on the narrow beaches below at low tide and ascend the cliffs with the assistance of ropes and ladders. When Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley told Rudder of the assignment, the Ranger officer could not believe what he had heard, but he understood the importance of the mission at hand. In his memoir, A Soldierโ€™s Story, Bradley wrote, “No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the thirty-four-year-old Commander of this Provisional Ranger Force.”

The original ornate plans were ruined by rough seas, which put the entire Pointe du Hoc timetable well behind schedule. They were forced to improvise.

The delay gave the Germans enough time to recuperate, reposition their defenses, and lay heavy gunfire on the incoming Rangers from companies D, E, and F. The Rangers, no longer able to follow Rudderโ€™s original plan, were now instructed to land all companies to the east of Pointe du Hoc on a strip of beach about 500 yards long and thirty yards wide. They came under heavy fire from the Germans while coming ashore. As the soldiers at the front exited the landing craft, the Rangers toward the rear laid down covering fire as their comrades ran to shore and took shelter in a small cave at the base of the cliff or in craters along the narrow beach.


The Rangers experienced much difficulty climbing up the cliffs that day. Many of the ropes that caught hold of the cliffs that morning were completely covered by enemy fire, making the number available for climbing severely limited. The wet ropes were slippery and soldiers were weighed down by damp uniforms and mud clinging to their clothes, boots and equipment. German bullets and โ€œpotato masherโ€ grenades rained down from above. Nevertheless, the Rangers climbed to the top of Pointe du Hoc while under enemy fire. Several German soldiers were killed and others driven off from the cliff edges when Rangers opened fire on them with Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs).

The guns they were sent to capture, their primary objective, weren’t there. The Germans had moved them back from what they’d thought was an impregnable position. A two-man Ranger patrol later found five of the six pieces of heavy artillery and they were subsequently.

After scaling the 110-foot cliff face against brutal German fire, gaining the top and then fighting the enemy for two dys fewer than 75 of the original 225 who came ashore at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day were fit for duty. It’s a testament to bravery and grit, and courage and honor. We were fortunate to have been able to visit it for a brief time.

From there we rode our rental bikes to the Normandy American Cemetery. We weaved through traffic, passing gobs of cars (it was oh so satisfying) stuck in traffic in time to see the evening’s flag lowering.

The World War II cemetery in Colleville-sur-Met, Normandy, France covers 172.5 acres and contains 9,388 burials. In the gardens are the engraved names of 1,557 servicemen declared missing in action in Normandy.

In that building you’ll see massive maps describing the planning and the D-Day assault itself, and also the push all the way to the Elbe River.

None of this was a certainty when D-Day began. And it took about two months of hard, deadly fighting, before the Allies could claim Normandy as under their control. Great losses were absorbed and delivered to get off that beachhead.

On the cemetery’s chapel there is a carving in the marble of part of John 10:28, “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish.”

The cemetery looks over a bluff onto Omaha Beach. There are 304 unknown soldiers at rest in the grounds of the cemetery.

It also contains the graves of 45 pairs of brothers (30 are side-by-side), a father and son, an uncle and nephew, two pairs of cousins, four chaplains, four civilians, three generals and three Medal of Honor recipients.

We were about 30 miles into our lovely afternoon bike ride, and we were starting to eye the clock. The bike shop we rented from closed at 7, and our train was coming at about 8:30. So we had to race back. (Nice bikes, would rent again. Would check to make sure my back brake worked before I set out next time, though. I had to feather off the front brake for the entire day!) We made it just in time, which was the shocking theme for the whole day. Just caught the morning train. Arrived with our bikes ready, got lost twice and still made it to the cemetery just in time to see the flags lowered. Lingered around that hallowed place a while, giving us just enough time to get back to the bike shop, which left us enough time to get a bite to eat at a place next to the train station. Which put us safely on the train.

It was an important day in important places. I’m glad we did it, and that it all worked out as it did, which was to say, perfectly.

She planned another great trip, and we’re just getting started.

We still have two days in Paris, where our adventures will continue.

May 22

Savor this Monday

Slow busy day. Or is it a busy slow day? And how, precisely, are they different? They are certainly different. I propose more slow days to give us ample time for study. But, before all of that …

We had a nice afternoon ride yesterday. Legs were burning, and at times we were moving very quickly, indeed. Here is the view on the back half of the ride.

I was taking a breath after a little experiment. We were cruising along on a false flat at 30 miles per hour and I decided to see what would happen if I sprinted out an attack. It only took a few hard pedal strokes, and it hurt for quite some time.

Well beyond that photo, I assure you.

Just after, I had enough time to catch my wind before the biggest climb of the day. We’d gone over some steady uphill rollers at 20-plus, and then down a big descent and by the lake and then out the other side, up the big hill. Which is where we find the newest installment in the irregular Barns by Bike series.

I’m sure that one has been featured before. It’s on a hill, so I’m certainly going slow enough to take a picture or three.

It is now time for the series even more popular than the bike riding and the barns to this site, checking in on the cats.

Poseidon is very interested in The Yankee’s breakfast. Or at least the banana.

I interrupted his nap here. He paid me back in kind the next night. And the next night. And probably one more after that.

Phoebe, undercover.

If the sun is out she will forsake the comforts of a fuzzy blanket to catch a few rays. Here she is dozing on the back of The Yankee’s desk.

As I say, she relaxes hard, with an intensity to her naps the likes of which you’ve never seen. We should all be so lucky.

And that’s the theme for the next little bit. It’s time for a summer sabbatical. I’ll catch back up with you here in a few days. Until then, stay hydrated, well-rested and enjoy!

May 22

Riding into the weekend

Finally, we were able to get in another bike ride this week. The two extra days off did my legs no favors. But someone didn’t seem phased. I was playing catch up for 90 minutes.

At the very end of the ride I caught her.

Or, seen another way …

Even then, it took a well-timed break — near our pre-selected turnaround point is the home of a few friends who were out in their yard so we stopped for a chat — and a desperate chase just to stay in sight.

She’ll get faster before I do, probably, which is the real concern.

Did you know I am still putting dive videos on social media? I am still putting dive videos on social media. Here’s today’s dose. I’ve got about five more weeks worth of clips, I’m sure.

That’s it for now. See you Monday. Until then, check out my Instagram. And did you know that Phoebe and Poseidon have an Instagram account? Also, be sure to keep up with me on Twitter as well.

May 22

Let’s go back in time

Ten years ago I took this photograph, and published it on my Tumblr site. (Remember those?) This is the agapanthus, the African lily. From the Greek agape (love) + anthos (flower).

The plant is believed to have a hemolytic poison and can cause ulceration of the mouth. It does have other medicinal properties, however. There are about 10 species in the genus.

(Haven’t put anything on that Tumblr since November 2014. I wonder why? Probably just rightly remembered I should put everything here.)

Nine years ago I was at a baseball game, and the good guys won. We found our friend watching from a nearby parking deck.

(Happy times!)

Eight years ago we ran a triathlon in the morning, and watched a baseball game in the afternoon. (Good guys lost.) And I got Aubie to take a selfie on my camera.

(Happy times!)

Seven years ago we ran a 10K. I did it in brand new shoes.

This was a fundraiser in London, and on part of the route we ran around Wembley Stadium. The guy that won the race was an Egyptian Olympian. He lapped us. It was amazing to watch him run. He could not stick around to get his medal, they said, because he ran off to run another race. Long distance runners, man.

But look at this awesome bling!

(The next day we were in Paris. It was a whirlwind.)

Six years ago, plus one day …

I’ve never been able to eat watermelon without thinking about that. And I can’t eat watermelon without being a bit sad. Had some this morning, in fact.

Five years ago, boy, I was right about this one.

Four years ago, we were in Tuscany, specifically, Siena, and just one of the beautiful things we visited that day was the Duomo di Siena. In the 12th century the earliest version of this building starting hosting services, but there’d been a church on this spot for centuries by then. The oldest bell in the church was cast in 1149! These beautiful facades started appearing in the 1200s.

That was a grand trip. We’d do that one again, I’m sure.

Three years ago, the 17th was a Saturday, and we went on an easy bike ride.

Two years ago I apparently sat around and thought of little more than Covid. Remember the pandemic?

And last year at this time I was recovering from my first long drive in a year. We’d just come back from visiting my vaccinated family members. It had been my first drive out of the county in more than a year. It took a day or two to recover.

I did have a reason to re-use this gif, however.

The guy on the left is a sports director at a television station in Illinois now. The guy on the right is a 2L at a Washington D.C. law school. (We’re all going to work for one of them one day, I’m sure.)

So a bit of everything on this day in the last decade.

May 22

Lafayette, I am here!

I’m leading with the cats, because they’re the big draw, but stick around for the books, which will come along in just a bit.

Phoebe felt like doing a bit of posing this week. Here she is, mid-belly rub.

And just sitting as pretty as you please in the hallway.

Poseidon is also doing well, but he has decided to play it coy. He’s in this photo, somewhere, I assure you. But he knows you can’t see him.

Sometimes being relaxed involves letting gravity take over and just sprawling wherever.

So they are both doing well and enjoying the beginning of their summer. Aren’t we all? I love the mental shift, and now I’m beginning to think that maybe the cats can sense it, too.

This must be the longest daffodil stem I’ve ever seen. It is in an almost perfect spot, removed from the lawn mower blades, reaching out for maximum sun. Just close enough to where we would walk to notice how it is showing off.

I wonder how much it will continue to grow before it gets the attention of a passing critter or bug.

We had a punchy little bike ride this evening. Good legs, good lungs, comfortable in the cockpit, and just a little droopy up one little roller. Everywhere else I could produce good power. Here, The Yankee had finally caught up to me and surged out a little ahead. She was pouring on the coals while I was fiddling with a jersey pocket. She pulled out a small gap, but I was able to shut it down. It was one of those days when most anything seemed possible.

It makes riding fun.

That makes you want to ride all the time. So tomorrow, maybe?

I finished Brilliant Beacons Saturday night. I bought this in April 2021.

I was not aware that our first lighthouses dated to colonial times. But, like many people who have visited any surviving lighthouses, I knew that automation and GPS and other technologies have improved a sailor’s circumstance such that most of the bright old lights are well beyond obsolete. This book covers much that took place between 1716 and the mid 20th century and does so in an easy, approachable manner. Not every lighthouse is dissected, but you’ll gain a terrific appreciation for some of the engineering involved at the most demanding locations. You’ll get a sense of the people that worked in the lighthouses, their steadfastness and their heroism and, sometimes, the crazed things that took place beneath the big, beaming lights. You’ll learn about the brilliant Fresnel lens (most of you have the same technology in your headlights) and you’ll come to know the different parts of the government that made lighthouses a practical fixture, long before they became a photographic fixation. Lighthouses are one of those things that, over the course of time, we got right. And if you’re at all interested in the subject matter, this book gets it right, too.

In addition to a massively overflowing bookshelf, I have too many books in my Kindle app. There were 52 books waiting there last night, all of them, of course, are of an interest to me. I bought them, after all. But which one to read next? I suppose there’s chronology. I’d probably be reading about Jamestown or the Holy See. But what about books that cover broad swaths of time? Or these other books about wood or food? So I could go with purchase date, then. No idea. Alphabetical? Reasonable enough. That’d probably create a little variation, which is desirable. But would that be alphabetical based on titles or the authors’ names?

So I did what anyone would do: I counted all the books and ran a random number generator until one number showed up a third time. And that number leads us to Last of the Doughboys, which I purchased in February last year.

Starting in 2003, reporter Richard Rubin started interviewing surviving members of the U.S. military and auxiliary services that took part in the Great War. Everyone here is more than 100 years old, because time marches on. I’ve read two chapters so far. The first was about his inspiration and the process to finding these centenarians. The second chapter was a summary of an all-but forgotten memoir of WW1, Over the Top, by Arthur Guy Empey. He wrote three other books, none as popular as the wildly successful first. He also penned a handful of popular songs, and a few silent films, acting in some of them, before the talkies drove him out. He had a bunch of magazine, pulp stories under his belt, as well.

In 1935, then in his early 50s, he helped organize a paramilitary organization in Hollywood.

It’s always been a weird place, basically.

None of this last part, the part about the rest of Empey’s life, has figured into Rubin’s Doughboys book. If you read about Empey, it’s clear he made a living on interest in the Great War right up until the public zeitgeist shifted in the mid 1930s. He had a good run of it, though, and himself lived into his 70s, dying in 1963. The rest of Rubin’s book, though, will see his peers having lived decades on.

Time and soldiers, they all know about marching. And in time we lose details. Did the right face happen here or there? Either way, we know we pivoted on this foot, because that’s the concept of the movement. The details might be forgotten, but the fundament is still there, we pivot on the ball of this foot. The non-historian remembers little of the Great War. The thoughtful person might be able to point to some of its many lasting, and continuing legacies. Most of us, at least, recall that it happened. It hardly seems enough to remember, considering the cost. But, then again, this was a century ago. Next month, it’s 105 years, in fact, since Gen. John Pershing arrived in France.

That’s history for you. Vital today, heroic tomorrow, then reunions the next week, and the mists of time after that. Before too long, the original media turns digital or dust.

This footage is the Wikipedia of newsreels, and there’s a heck of a downshift in the final quarter of the footage.

Pershing died in ’48. I bet his name gets mentioned a few times in this book, though. So far, it’s one you want to keep getting back to, eager to see who you’ll meet next.

I wonder how much of it I’ll read tonight.