• Alex Gerlach

A Pedacito Of Storming Omaha Beach

Updated: Jun 19

“I arrived at the train station. It’s 4 O’clock. It’s starting to get dark. I’m getting a little tired, but still energetic and so excited to be there. So, I sat down at the train station, which was no more than a bench. A bench with a little overhanging shelter. And I was like this is not good.”

 A view of the Normandy countryside
A view of the Normandy countryside

I met my friend Gavin during my study abroad trip to London in 2019. He was a student from Saint John’s University who was in the same abroad program as me. I remember hearing this story from him about his trip to France and knew I had to share it.


Gavin is an incredible human being and I want to paint a little picture before diving into his story. He is incredibly shameless, dances like no one is watching (literally), loves history, and even carried my drunk friend home from the bar. He is a true gentleman, a natural comic, and an all-around awesome guy who finds himself in the most unbelievable situations.

His tour of Normandy started in Caen, France, a port city in the Normandy region. From there, he would take the train to Bayeux. Until then, he explored the city and its surrounding areas on foot, in awe of its accuracy to pictures he used to look at.

“Walking through Caen, it was a very new city. It had that Normandy feel, but not as old. Which makes sense because during the battle it was completely wiped out. It was in ruins and had to be rebuilt. But as I walked out of Caen into the older villages, I started to see what I had seen in pictures of Normandy.”

As Gavin walked me through his story, he noted these next few moments as the turning point for his whole trip. He began his trek back into Caen so he could leave for Bayeux from the train station, which was no more than a bench with a little overhanging shelter.


“I was hoping to buy a ticket, find a schedule, or any indication of when the next train was coming through. And there was none of that. So I asked myself, ‘do I wait for a train or do I press on?’ And I was like you know what, we’re just gonna go for it.”


Gavin, armed with very little aside from his perseverance to keep moving, put his earbuds in and began his trek. His experience was nothing compared to the well-prepared, glamorous idea we have of backpacking in another country. In a split-second decision, Gavin found himself fully committed to walking from Caen to Bayeux.

The path Gavin walked from Caen to Bayeux.
The path Gavin walked from Caen to Bayeux.

Instead of finding another way to Bayeux, Gavin walked a total of over 21 miles along route N13. It didn’t take long for fatigue and hunger to begin gnawing at him.


“It starts getting dark. Like really dark. And I remember losing my mind a little bit. I’m walking along this county road and it was so dark. I was so tired. I started limping. And I was really hungry. And this is where I saw the vending machine.”


“When people talk about a light in the dark, this was it. I remember turning the corner and thinking ‘this is an answer from God. Like this is amazing.’” Gavin “limped” over to the vending machine, ready to fuel up for the rest of his trip when things took a turn for the worse.


“To my dismay, I discovered it was all oysters,” he said. With not much else to be done, he continued on his way.

The disappointing oyster vending machine
The disappointing oyster vending machine

Gavin made it safely, and just in the nick of time, to his lodging. In fact, with only an hour to spare. The next day, he spent the day exploring the cathedral, museums, and town of Bayeux. It was also the day he purchased an old war gas mask, which he struggled to get through customs at the airport at the end of his trip.

For the majority of the trip, Gavin was alone. But another friend of ours, Derek, ended up joining him for this last part of his journey. After struggling with the language barrier to get breakfast and rent a car, Gavin and Derek began their drive through the Normandy countryside.

“Just driving around, everything looks straight out of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.” Despite being November, Gavin noted how lush and green the scenery was. He found himself transported in time, surrounded by landmarks of historical battle events.

Finally, the day came to go to Omaha Beach. “I was like a kid in a candy shop. I was running around the bunkers, sticking my head into places I probably shouldn’t have been. You can still see the trenches and the foxholes, which was really cool.”

But Gavin’s favorite part of visiting Omaha was returning to the shore and finding the water at low tide. “I was like, I gotta do it. Derek, film this for me.” So, Gavin ended his trip having done all he set out to, and definitely a lot more than he bargained for. But in the end, he used travel as a tool to transport himself to and connect with another time.

 

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