As the son of Lt. Refert Croon, I wish to share my recent visit to France, and recommend to those who have not yet visited the Normandy Beaches — attempt to do so.
One can not fully perceive the scale and scope of the Allied Invasion, without personally viewing the enormity of the geography engaged. The journey had special meaning for me, given the context below:
As a young Lieutenant, my father was a member of the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion, and, as a member of Gap Assault Team #1, which landed at 0633 on D-Day in the DOG WHITE Sector of Omaha Beach.
They were successful in clearing obstacles and blowing a hole in the seawall, despite heavy casualties, allowing American Forces to move forward up the bluff and counter heavily defended German positions in the area surrounding Vierville-Sur-Mer.
For their actions, the 146 ECB received the Presidential Unit Citation as well as the Distinguished Service Order of the British Empire.
Remarkably, my father went on to win Five Battle Stars from Normandy to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, but said very little about what he had seen. He passed some time ago, before I could encourage him to return. Yet, I felt my father’s presence walking in his footsteps. The visit to Normandy afforded a lifetime memory for my wife and I.
I fear the the legacy of the “Greatest Generation” may be forgotten unless our younger citizens are reminded of the sacrifices of these Americans. I was surprised to discover the French have not forgotten, to include their young.
D-Day was no exception to the fact that military operations rarely unfold according to plans. Mistakes compounded and it was only the courage, physical stamina and creativity of American soldiers that enabled the ultimate success on Omaha Beach.
On the practical side, believe it best to station your Normandy visit in Bayeux, given its proximity to the critical D-Day locations and the American Military cemetery at Coleville-Sur-Mer. While there, take time to view both the Bayeux Tapestry and Cathedral. The locals will appreciate your attempt to speak some of the basic french phrases, but given the numbers of American visitors, it’s easy to conduct business in English with merchants and at restaurants.
Your journey will no doubt begin at Paris-Charles DeGaulle. Take a few days to acclimate and enjoy some of the major sights in one of the world’s most scenic cities. Prioritize the major tourist attractions you may wish to visit. Same for the Louvre, select the “biggies” you wish to see; otherwise, you could wander aimlessly for two weeks. The French drive on the right, with modern road systems outside Paris, yet maneuvering in Paris could be too much of a challenge with little parking and thousands of motorcycles, along with different rules of the road. A good option is to take the train to Normandy, a comfortable 2 hour ride. While in Normandy, I strongly recommend hiring a Professional French Tour Guide to tailor your visit in an efficient manner which will include transportation.
Oh yea, always carry rain gear.
Larry Dirks Croon