Friday, June 5, 2009


The armada of American Allies invaded the coast of France at Normandy 65 anniversaries ago. Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Sword Beach, Pointe du Hoc. Paratroopers and gliders floated silently from the sky into French farm fields and towns. Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Bayeux, Carentan. The charming fishing village of Arromanches was turned into an instant deep water port. Sixty-five birthdays ago for me, as I was born the same day. Sixty-five. Retirement age. It is too late for me to think about retiring, since I already left the employment roles three years ago when I was hospitalized, in a coma for three weeks, woke up deaf. Nowadays I stay plenty busy. I just don’t have a job. Lately, I have been remodeling the condo that belonged to my oldest sister, who died the day before Christmas Eve 2007. I am almost finished with that project and look forward to some quality time this summer with my grandchildren, spending some of their inheritance on sunscreen, floppy straw hats, and restaurant meals. I also want to re-read one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, do some research for an article. Retired is in the eye of the beholder.

Three years after my Daddy retired, I received a letter saying he would come to visit me in Europe, if I invited him. I worked for the U.S. Department of State in Brussels, Belgium, at the time. My Daddy had crossed the ocean borders of the U.S.A. only once before, in WWII when the Marine Corps had put him on a troop ship as cannon fodder for the invasion of Japan, just before Hiroshima. From Brussels, my wife and I took my Daddy to the Ardennes and Amsterdam. We went to Paris and drove to Normandy. We visited the American Cemetery, 172 acres of white markers, on a cliff, overlooking Omaha Beach.

We stayed at a charming hotel in the waterfront village of Arromanches, location of the D-Day Museum. My Daddy and I posed together for a photograph in front of the museum, with the large letters prominent behind us, 6 Juin 1944, D-Day. In the picture, my Daddy is 68. I am 35. At sunset, my Daddy and I stood each with one foot resting on the rail of the sea wall, wordlessly smoking American cigarettes and watching the ocean channel. Our hotel was four stories high across the narrow street from the waterfront. During the night, the crashing waves alternately kept me awake and drummed me to sleep.

At the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, my Daddy, drew stares by complaining about the crowded attraction in terms that would be overly dignified by suggesting an analogy to moneychangers in the temple. I can only think he believed that nobody could understand him, since he could not understand the other languages being spoken all around him. In France, the steaks were cooked too rare for him, and he missed his bacon and eggs for breakfast. “How long did it take you before you could stand this coffee?” he asked me. I was happy to tell him, “Daddy, the first time I ever put it in my mouth, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” I always remember this as a substitute for the discussion we never had about French wines, which my Daddy never tasted, and the special quality of light in northern France captured by Impressionist paintings, which never caught my Daddy's eye.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter


tommy said...

Bill, another story which could have gone on and on forever (and does somewhere), but ended too soon. I think it's your memoirs, laced with historical events, better than your political commentaries which are also very good, that I like the best. Thanks!

annettecotter said...

I remember bugging your daddy all over Europe about his lack of courage in experimenting with continental cuisine. But he had the last laugh in Arromanches. I ordered "cerveaux d'agneau" translating in my crude French that "cerveaux" must be backbone or cervical something or other, and d'agneau being lamb...I thought I'd get a rack or lamb...or close. When "cerveaux" turned out to be French for "brain", and my dinner came out with two perfect halves of cerebrum, looking for all the world like a biology experiment, your daddy stared me down as I tried and failed to eat this (ugh!) delicacy.

margo said...

I enjoyed your most recent blog and, of course, D-Day remembrances are all over the TV and Internet right now. They are bringing back memories about my recent trip through that area of Normandy where we also toured the British and American memorial areas, Sainte-Mer-Eglise, Arromanches, saw Pointe du Hoc from Omaha Beach and went to numerous museums and memorials in Caen, Bayeux, et al.

I still get mixed up about what we saw where because we did so much in a short time, but it was all very poignant and well worth seeing. It made me doubly proud to be an American and to have been alive during WWII. Many of my family's friends and relatives served and too many didn't survive, all for the price of our freedom and the good life we have today. I wish our younger citizens could fully understand the significance of those sacrifices.

Tina said...

My daddy used to eat brains (pork, I guess) and eggs scrambled together & he thought it was wonderful. Nobody else would touch it.

Yvonne said...

Hope you had a happy birthday!

P.S. I always enjoy your blog spot! Thank you for sending it.


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