I think that my nearly 16 year old son, Chase, set a new Guinness world record on our trip home from our two-week family trip to Europe.
We were driving home from Minneapolis and nearing Estherville, when he started complaining about the urgent need to go to the bathroom. It dawned on me to ask when the last time was that he had gone. He answered, “Paris.” I told him that if he had gone over 4,300 miles and waited 13 hours without going, that he could stand another five miles to make it to Estherville.
I don’t know what the world record is for miles between bathroom stops, but I know my bladder doesn’t work like that. There was one instance in Normandy when I thought about going, but didn’t. Here is the explanation.
Our tour guide was Dale Booth. He came recommended to us by friends and gave a fabulous two-day American D-Day tour. He had served many years as a British soldier and had lived in France for a couple decades.
His book, “Following in the Footsteps of Hero’s D-DAY” is available on Amazon. Dale stopped at a German cemetery near Bayeux, France, that interred more than 21,000 German dead in Normandy. The stones were inscribed with names flat in the ground. One stone in particular that Dale pointed out to us was marking the grave of Sturmbannfuhrer Adolf Diekmann.
Diekmann commanded a battalion of the Das Reich 2nd SS Panzer division. The SS Division was trying to reach Normandy to engage the invasion and was hindered greatly by partisan activity which was significantly slowing their progress. Here is the narrative about what took place.
“Following many encounters with the local maquis in which two German soldiers were killed, a unit of the regiment arrived at ORADOUR (believed to be a hotbed of maquis activity) in a convoy of trucks and half-tracks. At about 2 p.m. on this Saturday afternoon the 120-man SS unit surrounded the village ordering all inhabitants to parade in the market place for an identity check.
Women and children were separated from the menfolk and herded into the local church. The men were herded in groups of six carefully chosen local garages and barns and shot. Their bodies were then covered with straw and set on fire. The 452 women and children in the church were then suffocated by smoke grenades lobbed in through the windows and shrapnel grenades that were thrown down the nave while machine-guns raked the interior.
All flammable items in the church then caught fire.”
One woman and four men survived to tell what had happened. The atrocity worked in that the SS Division then proceeded to Normandy without further harassment from partisans. When General Erwin Rommel heard what had taken place, he ordered Adolf Diekmann to be brought up on charges, but Diekmann was killed in the fighting before a trial took place.
Today the village of Oradour-sur-Glane has been kept in ruins as the SS left it as a memorial site. After hearing Dale tell the story, I instinctively leaned over and spat on Diekmann’s stone.
That was my second choice response. Dale said that I was not the first of his tour participants to do that.
Standing on Omaha Beach in Normandy was one of my bucket list items. There was a high bluff above the beach with five draws that led from the beach inland which were heavily defended.
The 480-bombers sent to attack defenders missed the shore defenses entirely with their ordinance falling further inland. The naval bombardment was too short in duration and ineffectual. The German defenses along the coast where made up of a succession of what were called “Widerstandnests.”
They were independent, oval-shaped lairs hundreds of yards in size circled by barb wire and mines. They had cement bunkers for artillery, mortars, and machine guns manned by 20 to 50 troops and spaced from several hundred yards apart to several miles.
There were only 850 German troops defending all of Omaha beach. There were more than a thousand of these defensive emplacements strung along the entire French coast in a manner in which they protected each other with interlocking fields of fire. The bunkers would not all face the water, but were positioned to cover the beach in front of the adjoining nest which protected them from direct naval bombardment.
Troops of the 29th Infantry Division came ashore, dropped into the water far from the seawall having to cross hundreds of yards of open beach under fire from Germans on the bluff in a manner that made it a turkey shoot.
One German defender said that they were shocked after totally decimating the first wave, with some instances of no troops getting off the landing craft alive, to see the next wave come in and then another.
I lay down against the seawall and was struck with the recognition that it provided no cover from the bluff.
Booth said that at the time of D-Day, there was a gravel embankment in front of the seawall and it was in that gravel wall where they dug in. The gravel wall is no longer there today. I was at the spot depicted where Tom Hanks radioed, “Dog One is not open!” in the movie, Saving Private Ryan.
What it took them minutes to do in that movie moving up from the beach actually occurred over an eight-hour period to accomplish the victory on D-Day. That suffering under fire is unimaginable. The troops floated in with the tide. Only tenacity prevailed, there were 5,000 causalities with 1,600 killed. The defenses were breached and landings commenced, but it took a while to overcome the chaos.
I was privileged to walk the lane in the U.S. cemetary above Omaha Beach that the Ryan family walked in the opening of the same movie.
The Ryan family in the movie depicted the Niland family from New York in real life. There were four Niland brothers in the military. One was killed with the 82nd Airborne on June 6, another was killed near Utah Beach with the 4rth Infantry division on June 7, another was shot down in Burma and presumed dead, but later showed up alive as a POW.
The fourth brother was in the 101st Airborne. He sought out his brother in the 82nd which is when he learned he was dead. He was shipped back to the states after six weeks of paperwork, nothing like what occurred in the movie.
The two Niland brothers that were killed are buried side-by-side in the U.S. cemetery there. I was humbled by my visit to those beaches.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page