Menlo Park Funerals
Flag at Omaha Beach D-Day Omaha Beach Memorial D-Day Cemetery near Omaha Beach Port-en-Bessin Harbor Entrance German Fortifications at Omaha Beach Bob at Omaha Beach Scattering Documentation Final Farewells Overlooking Omaha Beach The Last Voyage Scattering Bob's Ashes Joining His Shipmates

A Veteran Returns to Omaha Beach

Sailing into the Sunset

Ten years ago I retired from John O’Connor’s Menlo Park Funerals and set sail for parts unknown aboard the Windsong, my 60’ sailboat. Six months later, off the coast of Nicaragua, I received an e-mail via our single-sideband radio asking me to call my old office. A few days later, in a small dusty coastal village, I called Menlo Colonial Chapel and was asked to contact Bob P., an old friend from the Menlo Town Club.  Bob was in his 80’s and I hadn’t seen him in a year or so because he was in ill health. “Bob, how you doing,” I asked.  “Not well, John.  I called because I don’t have long to go and I would like you to scatter my ashes under the Golden Gate when you have a chance.”   “ Bob, I’m sorry but I’ve retired and I’m sailing Windsong down the coast of Central America, then over to Europe.”  “Oh” he said and was silent for a moment.  “Do you think you will be sailing off the coast of France some time?”  “Maybe, why Bob?”   “John, I don’t think I ever told you but in 1944 I was in the Navy and took part in the Normandy invasion on D-Day.  So if you would, take my urn with you and scatter my ashes with my buddies off Omaha Beach in the sea, not on the shore.  Navy, you know.”  I thought about it and said,  “Bob I may not be there for years!”  In a second his old wit shown through. “John, I plan on being dead a long time, so it will not matter how long it takes.” “OK, Bob you have my word on it.”

3,000 Nights at Sea

Months later I made my yearly visit to Menlo Park to see my granddaughters at Christmas.  Of course, I stopped by Menlo Park Funerals and picked up a years worth of messages from old friends.  One was from Bob's family.  I called and talked to his wife Betty.  Bob had passed away and she had his urn for me. She was living in an assisted living facility in Redwood City.  We met and she patted my hand and said “You two be safe out there.” It was the beginning of an eight-year odyssey - 3,000 nights at sea.

Farewell to the Windsong

Last spring Windsong was in the marina in Barcelona, Spain after an exploration of the Western Mediterranean, from Istanbul to Egypt.  After five years in the Mediterranean, I was ready to head to England and then back to the Caribbean via Cape Verdi. I noticed a man walking along the dock, passing my boat a few times.  He called up to me. “May I speak to you, Captain?” “Hi, what can I do for you?  “I want to buy your boat,” he said.  “It’s not for sale,” I said.  We talked for a while and off he went. The next day he was back.  “May I speak to you, Captain,” he said. “Would you sell her for $$$$?” After a moments hesitation I said,  “Let me show you your new boat!”  And that’s how my twenty-year love affair with Windsong came to an end. That night I sat alone at the helm in my captain’s chair with a tall scotch and thought of the thousands of Menlo Park area friends that had sailed aboard Windsong. It was a sad bittersweet night. The next morning I passed on the keys and felt a new sense of purpose.  It’s just you and me now Bob.  I had a flight from Paris to SFO in seven days. So with a free week ahead, I took nothing from Windsong but some clothes, Bob’s urn, and the American Flag that had covered his casket.  It all fit into my backpack.  Forty years ago, I backpacked through Europe for two years and now I felt 28 years old again.  No reservations, just a destination.  I caught a stand-by on Ryan Air to Orly airport and then found my way through the subway to the north of Paris train station for the express to Caen, then by bus to Bayeur.  The beautiful old city was completely untouched by the war although only 14 miles from the invasion of Europe by the Allied forces of some hundreds of thousands of men. I found a small room over a bar on a side street along the canal and had a great night's sleep.

Omaha Beach

Sunday morning found me at the bus stop heading to Port-en-Bessin and Omaha beach. After about half an hour, a French woman asked if I was an American?  How can they tell?  Yes I was, I said.  “Well there are no busses on Sunday”.   This even better than I had hoped for.  I could hitchhike again just like the old days.  Off I went along a small road winding through the beautiful Normandy countryside in the first week of June.  It wasn’t long before an old car with a much older farmer picked me up.  “You’re an American,” he proudly said in English.  How do they know? “Yes, and I have my friend’s urn with me.  He was here on D Day and his wish was to be scattered off Omaha Beach.”  “We are very grateful and I know just where to go.”  In less than an hour he dropped me off at the small fishing town of Port-en-Bessin.  I walked along the canal through the Sunday morning farmers market.  It was filled with the sights and smells of the farmers’ produce, cheese, sausage, and home-made wines.  By now it was noon and the tide was just beginning to flood.  This meant that I would have some hours before the small fishing boats would lift off the mud and float again.  Time enough to scout around and make a plan.  Bob wanted to be scattered at sea and not on the beach. At low tide Omaha Beach was almost impregnable.  A hard shelf almost 200 yards across was exposed and it extended for miles to the East and West of my position and the cliffs rose more than 100 feet up from this shelf.  How could those mostly 18 to 25 year old GIs have made it up and over on D-Day?  I had time to take a few pictures of the urn and flag for Bob's family.  A young Japanese tourist asked me what I was doing.  I told him and he asked if was OK to take some pictures of me and e-mailed them to me later.  By now the boats were starting to rise and fishermen were walking down the steep ramp to a little dock where their small row- boats would take them to their boats at anchor.  I saw a father and two sons taking supplies back and forth to their boat.  I walked down the steep ramp to the floating dock and spoke in my high school French to a son, who was about 25 years old.  I explained why I was there and showed him the flag and the urn.  I told him Bob was about 25 when his ship was hit just of shore. Some of his crew died right out there and he wanted to be with them now.  I offered him $50.  He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “It’s an honor for my father and I and it’s an honor for France.”  He took the urn and spoke to his family and off to sea they went.  I kept my word to Bob and they kept the honor of France. That night, back in Paris, I was swept up in a crowd of thousands of happy people. " You're an American, come with us". How do they know? A friend of America had just been elected the President of France.  A Polish Jew named Nicolas Sarkozy. I stood in the crowd of tens of thousands of Parisians that Sunday night and waved Bob’s American Flag to the cheers of the French men surrounding me.

Hitler said the the Third Reich would last a thousand years. Bob and 100,000 of the Greatest Generation bet their lives that it wouldn't last one more year.