"After all is said and done, more is said than done."
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF THE D-DAY ANNIVERSARY 1944-1994
by Klaus Berg
This article is dedicated to all the allied soldiers that died
in Normandy in 1944, and to their comrades, now veterans, that I
saw or met during the D-Day ceremonies.
You have probably heard a lot about the D-Day anniversary in
June this year: Half a century ago, thousands of soldiers landed
in Normandy on the Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, not
to mention the paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne
Divisions that were dropped behind enemy lines, the many warships
in the Channel, the Air Forces' hundreds of planes and the role
played by the French resistance. Their goal: Open a new front in
Europe and bring the Nazi armies to their knees, which is what
happened in May 1945. The military operation in Normandy was
called Overlord and led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower of the US
Army. It was the biggest military operation ever, as it involved
incredible quantities of men and equipment. For more information
on Overlord, please refer to the numerous history books and
articles that have been written on the subject: The point of this
article is not to give a history lesson, but to give a detailed
account of what I came to witness during the ceremonies and
Indeed, I was given the privilege to accompany the Norwegian
official delegation during an entire week, from the 31st of May
till the 8th of June. Being what is called in France an Officier
Interprète-Traducteur (language officer), I served as an
interpreter for the Norwegians - not that I am Norwegian (I'm
Danish), but the two languages are very close to each other
(Norway was under Danish rule for about 400 years until 1814, but
don't remind the Norwegians of that, they might get upset!).
This is, in chronological order, a very detailed account of what
I experienced during the D-Day anniversary in Normandy in June
In April 1994, one of my friends working at the French Army's
headquarters in Paris told me that the French western military
district ("Circonscription Militaire de Défense de Rennes") was
looking for a Norwegian-speaking officer, that could "look after"
the Norwegian official delegation coming to France for the D-Day
anniversary. Apart from speaking the language, this officer
should preferably be an "officier supérieur", that is to say
either a major, a lieutenant-colonel or a colonel, as the
equivalent of a company would come to France (ie. 150-200 men in
My friend told me that the people in charge of selecting the
right man were having trouble finding a Norwegian-speaking
officer and that they therefore were considering selecting an
experienced English-speaking officer instead (all Scandinavians
speak English). I immediately applied for the job, as, I
explained, Danish looks very much like Norwegian. My request was,
I was told, transmitted to the colonel in charge at the western
military district in Rennes.
In the following weeks, as I hadn't heard anything from this
"colonel from Rennes", I said to myself "well, they probably
found another one more suited for the job", until one day, in the
middle of May, the brigadier general commanding the service where
I work got a request from Rennes concerning the "loan of 2nd
Lieutenant Berg between May 31 and June 7". This officer "is
supposed to serve as an interpreter for the Norwegian
delegation". My general gave his approval, and a few days later I
got a telex stating that I was supposed to be in Caen at 10
o'clock on May 31. Orders and further details would be given
there and, most important, I was not going to be in command: A
French lieutenant-colonel would handle the organization in
itself, I would only be the interpreter. In the beginning, I
found this was bad news, because I wouldn't get much
responsibility, but after having thought about it, I decided that
it would be better: I would thus have more time to enjoy the
ceremonies and to speak with the Norwegians.
One thing that annoyed me was that I didn't know very much: I
didn't know the answers to the basic questions who, where and
how. That left a lot to speculation and questions, which colonel
X. (the one from Rennes!), who called me up three days before my
departure, couldn't answer.
Tuesday May 31, 1994
My train to Caen left the Paris-Saint-Lazare station at 0655.
Being an officer, I am allowed to travel in first class
compartments, where ample legroom, relative silence and few
people usually enable one to fall asleep rather easily. That
wasn't the case for me: I was too excited and couldn't stop
thinking of what lay ahead of me. After all, I only knew that I
had to be at some place at a certain time, nothing else. The
speculation kept going on in my mind...
Arriving in Caen, I was immediately struck by the town's special
mood: The billboards were covered with "Welcome to our
Liberators"-messages, flags from the Allied countries were
displayed everywhere and even the train station had a simple but
significant message which said something like "To the veterans:
The people working for the French railways do remember. Thank
The car that was supposed to fetch me upon arrival at the Caen-
station never came (I later found out why: The written request
that was sent came too late). I therefore had to take a cab to
the "Ecole de Défense NBC" located outside Caen. The cab driver,
with whom I had a little chat, told me that he had also been cab
driver ten years ago for the 40th anniversary and twenty years
ago for the 30th anniversary... He had met quite a few people!
I was received well at the EDNBC, and found out that even though
it was the western military district that organised the whole
thing, the operational center was located at the EDNBC. The
lieutenant-colonel that was to command me during the entire week
was there also, and we were given the papers explaining all the
details. Seven Air Force buses were reserved for the Norwegians,
plus one car. Two trucks could be borrowed from the 71st Engineer
Battalion in Rouen, where room and board would be arranged not
only for the Norwegian delegation and its French escort, but also
for the Dutch and Canadian delegations.
At 1215 we went to eat with the two lieutenant-colonels in
charge at the operational center; further questions were answered
during the meal. We also learned that the Americans had already
used 41 cubic meters of gas for their vehicles, helicopters, etc.
This equals to a consumption of 41.000 liters in all, before any
ceremony had taken place!
At about 1430, the convoy to Rouen was formed: I was in the car
in front, with my CO (see the glossary, at the end, for
explanations of these kinds of terms, ED.) and the chauffeur. The
seven buses followed, one of them having a corporal on board who
spoke some English.
We arrived in Oissel, where our barracks were supposed to be, at
1730 and faced our first problem: Nobody at the security post
knew about our arrival, but my lieutenant-colonel finally fixed
everything with the battalion's second in command, which enabled
us to get our rooms (that had been prepared) and something to eat
before leaving for Rouen, to have a drink and visit the old parts
of the town. I went to bed at 0100, exhausted.
Wednesday June 1, 1994
Breakfast was a nice surprise: It had nothing to do with the
usual French one, that most often consists of some coffee, bread,
marmalade, and that's it. Because of the arrival of foreign
soldiers, we would have continental breakfasts every morning:
Eggs and bacon, corn flakes, orange juice, yoghurt, cheese, warm
croissants etc. France had therefore made substantial efforts to
adapt itself to its guests' culinary habits - a good point.
At 0800, a convoy of two trucks, four buses and one car left for
the Beauvais airfield, where 120 Norwegians were to be fetched. A
C-130 Hercules from the Royal Norwegian Air Force had already
arrived when we got there, ten minutes late, because of heavy
traffic. Two Norwegian 2nd Lieutenants and about 30 soldiers had
already disembarked (the equivalent of a platoon). I noticed at
once that they were from the Royal Guards ("H.M. Kongens Garde").
A Norwegian lieutenant-commander, sent by the Norwegian embassy
in Paris, was there too.
We greeted each other and the French party offered to load the
trucks at once, in order to let them head back to Oissel before
the buses (the trucks were a bit slow). The Norwegian soldiers
did that quickly: I noticed that they were well trained and
organised. "Are they volunteers or conscripts?" was the first
question that popped into my mind. "All conscripts", was the
answer given to me by one of the 2nd Lieutenants I asked. The two
trucks left at about 1110, the C-130 took off, and we began
waiting for the jet that would come 20 minutes later, with the
Norwegian commanding officer, his executive officer, some other
officers and the remaining soldiers.
The Norwegian lieutenant-colonel was the first to get out of the
jet, followed by his officers (one of them being a paratrooper
(1st Lieutenant), whom we didn't know anything about). I was
delighted to see that the Norwegian CO was a smiling and calm
man, former para, about 50 years old. Typically Scandinavian in
his way of behaving and in his looks! Everybody was in a good
mood and we got along well at once.
The customs did not create any problems, so the buses got loaded
and we left at about 1200. I sat in the car with the French and
Norwegian lieutenant-colonels, doing what I was sent there for:
Translating! Details were checked (both COs had the same
information, at least we were talking about the same things),
general ideas and opinions about France and Norway exchanged,
etc. The Norwegian CO was surprised to see that his French
counterpart's officer class bore the name of Narvik (St. Cyr-
Coëtquidan, EMIA 1968), and, of course, that he had a Danish guy
in a French uniform doing the translations!
Upon arrival in Oissel at about 1400, we all went to eat (the
officers ate at the mess). The food was nice (the soldiers ate
the same, the only difference being that we had it served), the
Norwegians were just amazed by the quantity eaten by French
people: The Norwegian captain in charge of the music told me that
he usually only eats a biscuit with a cup of tea during the
lunch-break. Four courses were a bit too much for him!
Thankfully, his assistant, a 2nd Lieutenant, had an appetite as
big as his humour, so no problem. At 1500, assembling time given
by their officers to the Norwegian soldiers, I was asked by the
Norwegian CO to tell them that their officers would be there in a
few minutes (our lunch wasn't over - the Norwegians weren't used
yet to French gastronomical customs!). When I came out, I saw
that the soldiers had all lined up and they immediately stood to
attention when I reached them. They all knew by then that I was
Danish, so they reported to me, a little amused, in Norwegian. I
saluted them, gave them their instructions and returned to the
officers' mess, already charmed by the Norwegian soldiers'
discipline. No doubt that a French officer giving orders in
Danish to a Norwegian company is pretty unusual!
When we finally finished eating, some twenty minutes later,
arrangements were made and orders given for the accomodations.
Apart from the CO and his two captains who slept at the cercle
mixte (the battalion's rooms reserved to VIP's), soldiers and
lieutenants slept at the 1st Company's barracks. However, the
officers had officer rooms (for two people instead of eight). The
para-officer, who only had one night to stay with us before going
to Caen, got to sleep in my room.
I was again impressed by the quality of the Norwegian
organization: The soldiers, after having got their rooms, began
cleaning them with stuff brought all the way from Norway,
displayed lists outside each room stating who slept where, etc.
They did all this without looking like sad guys under permanent
pressure: They all looked happy and motivated.
In the evening, bus arrangements were made for Rouen: We all
needed to relax a bit... We had a few beers and were back at
Oissel before 0100.
Thursday June 2, 1994
Apart from the Norwegian CO, his XO and the para who all left
for Caen (a few things to fix with the Norwegian embassy and the
staff in charge of organizing the different events), everybody
stayed at the 71st Engineer Battalion's barracks that day.
At 1400, the Norwegians began drilling on the parade ground. The
movements they made, their perfect synchronization and the
wonderful music they played impressed everybody - especially when
I told the people attending that the Norwegian soldiers had been
civilians on January 5 this year, that they had had three months
of basic training from January to March, and that the parade-
training only had begun in April!
Afterwards, buses left for Rouen at 1600 and 2000. The Norwegian
soldiers were all happy to change into civilian clothes and to go
downtown to have a few drinks, eat and have fun, especially
because the weather was hot and sunny. Nevertheless, they were
all back at the arranged time. No problems with Norwegian
soldiers messing around in town!
As far as I was concerned, I spent the day helping the
Norwegians. I was the link between them and each guy in charge of
solving the different problems that occured: Missing cans in the
soda-dispenser, water-leaks in a room and bulb-changing. I also
handled the distribution of badges with Norwegian flags on them:
They would serve as ID cards during their stay.
Last but not least, I brought two Norwegians to the sick bay:
One was having allergy-problems, the other one had an arm aching
after the drill. It was real fun to sit and translate medical
terms for the doctor in charge! I also spent some time with the
Norwegian lieutenants showing them around in the camp: I showed
them the PX, the sports facilities, the TV-room, how to use the
phones, where to purchase phone-cards, etc.
During the dinner, the Norwegian CO, back from Caen, asked me if
there had been any problems with his soldiers. I could only
answer: "None that couldn't be solved, sir!"
Afterwards, we had a cup of coffee and talked a bit. We all got
along quite well. Especially I had a long discussion with two
Norwegian 2nd Lieutenants: We compared our armies and talked
about the differences in the officer-training. I even gave them a
course on the Foreign Legion, which obviously had caught their
attention before their arrival in France. I had already made some
I went to bed exhausted. It was becoming a habit!
Friday June 3, 1994
While all the Norwegians stayed in Oissel to keep drilling
(except the Norwegian CO who went to Caen again), three buses and
the two trucks went to the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, with
the French CO and myself on board: We were to fetch 70 more
Norwegians, two being officers (one captain - a company commander
- and one 2nd lieutenant).
As we knew that coming to the overcrowded Roissy-airport with so
many vehicles might create traffic problems during the loading of
the trucks and buses, my CO had struck a deal with the French
"gendarmerie", which made things a lot easier: We got an escort
and blocked the road only a few minutes. As the customs didn't
create problems either, everything went fine. The trip back to
Oissel was done in about two hours, the Norwegian soldiers even
had the opportunity to photograph the Eiffel tower through the
bus windows, while we were on the "boulevard périphérique".
We were back in Oissel at about 1500, and the time before dinner
was spent, just like two days before, giving rooms to the
Norwegian soldiers and officers (the "new" Norwegian captain
joined his colleagues and his CO at the cercle mixte). Further
minor problems were solved too (I took another soldier to the
sick bay, for example). Finally, it was decided that the officers
were going to have breakfast with the soldiers from then on (we
would keep using the mess for lunch and dinner though).
We (nearly) all managed to get to bed rather early, as we knew
the next day was going to be hard. Only the newcomers decided to
go downtown to see Rouen: They knew they might not get another
chance to see it before going back to Norway, so...
Saturday June 4, 1994
I got up at 0430, in order to be ready for breakfast at 0500.
When I arrived at the rank and file mess, the Norwegian soldiers
immediately stood to attention and asked me to go up in front, so
I could eat first. Still the same training!
We left Oissel for the Omaha beach rehearsal at 0615, after
having loaded buses and trucks (the Norwegian CO asked for the
car that day too, and left a little before - we were to meet him
later). We also had a guest with us: The 1st company's XO,
knowing he wouldn't be able to come on June 6, wanted to be there
at least for the rehearsal, in order to take some pictures. The
trip took a bit more than three hours, everybody therefore
managed to get some sleep, except me: As you have to pay to
travel on French highways, I was in charge of the "paperwork" at
At 0930, upon arrival, the buses and trucks were parked and we
all got out (the Norwegians were not wearing their parade
uniforms). A French engineer-company had been ordered to handle
the arrival of all the delegations, giving them the necessary
instructions and answering possible questions.
We were in fact on top of a cliff, with a beautiful view over
the ocean. Too bad the weather was so lousy: I didn't know it at
that point, but it was going to rain all day long. However, as a
Norwegian 2nd lieutenant correctly told me, "the people that
landed on the beaches 50 years ago did not benefit from sunny
weather either, so the least we can do is not to complain about
The rehearsal had already started, but the Norwegians had an
hour before having to go down to the road along Omaha beach. That
gave them (and us) plenty of time to drink some coffee and get
ready. At 1035, perfectly lined up, the Norwegians began going
down towards the beach.
For once, I must say French organization did rather well: An
officer stood at each important step on the road along the beach
to tell the delegations what to do, when to start, etc. The only
problem was that none of them mastered any foreign language; even
English was a problem. I therefore acted as an interpreter not
only for the Norwegians, but also for the US, English and
Canadian delegations (don't ask me where their interpreters had
The basic idea was simple: Each nation had to march in a special
order, musicians coming first, then the flag-bearer and the armed
troops (all the guns had naturally been neutralized). When they
reached the square, the musicians had to stop in front of the VIP
gallery and play some music, while the troops had to go further
down the road and then down to the beach (this, we learned, would
not be broadcasted on TV). When they'd finished playing their
music, the musicians had to go further down the road and prepare
for the final march in front of the cameras, the Kings and
Queens, the heads of state, etc. Two hours' waiting time was
planned before beginning to march, though.
Everything went fine for the Norwegians who had also been
briefed by their own officers. As far as I was concerned, I was
to wait for them on the other side of the square, to show them
the spot from which their final march would start (as you can
see, the planning was very thorough!).
During the waiting time, we managed to avoid the rain by going
to the gallery where, on June 6, the veterans would sit. We
therefore watched the others rehearse, talked with some American
MPs, etc. The CO of the engineer battalion that was quartering us
met us there and told us how impressed he was by the Norwegians'
behaviour and discipline (a delicate way of saying that that
wasn't the case for one of the other delegations that were in
At 1335, the Norwegians began their final march. The "targets"
were the buses, where a well-deserved lunch was waiting. The
drivers had been ordered to park their buses elsewhere though, at
a place two kilometers away, along the beach. After having eaten,
we desperately looked for a place serving coffee, that was not
overcrowded... Impossible! The French CO therefore got the idea
of asking a family that was watching everything from its balcony
if they could serve us some coffee, which they immediately
accepted. Four of us went in (the French and Norwegian CO's, a
Norwegian captain and myself).
This family was delighted to have us, they took pictures of us,
filmed a bit too, and served coffee, biscuits and some "Calvados"
(apple brandy from Normandy - for Scandinavians: Æblebrændevin!).
It turned out that the grandfather that was there was almost sent
with the French expeditionary force to Narvik in 1940 (as you can
see, Narvik kept coming back again and again!). He kindly drove
us back to the square afterwards, as we were to watch videos of
the morning's rehearsal.
As we arrived at the Press Center (in fact a huge tent), where
the videos would be shown, an American NCO of the 82nd Airborne
Division was on his way out. He gave a nod, saying "Sir" to each
of us, as we entered the tent. It was really fun to see all these
soldiers from so many different countries talking together,
saluting each other, etc. This was pretty unusual!
All the foreign delegations' officers in charge were there; the
meeting's goal was to enable them to correct possible errors made
by the marching soldiers. A French brigadier general (two stars
in France, one in most NATO countries) led the meeting and
answered various questions. The Norwegian CO and XO were
satisfied with their soldiers' performance.
After having solved some practical problems with the Norwegians
(where to stand with regard to the microphones, and the flag
bearer's exact role), one more march was done by all the
delegations. We then walked back to the buses in order to leave
We did not go back to Oissel directly though: We first had to
carry out a recce in Villon-les-Buissons, where the French-
Norwegian ceremony would take place after the Omaha beach
ceremony on June 6. Under pouring rain, the Norwegian officers
decided where the men would be placed, how things would be done,
etc. That took about 15 minutes, after which we went back to
Oissel, really tired...
Upon arrival, we learned that the 71st Engineer-battalion's CO
wanted to organize a parade in his battalion's quarters, so that
the soldiers that had not been able to watch anything could get a
look at the Norwegian, the Dutch, the Canadian, the Belgian and
the Polish delegations' performances. As everybody would be away
on June 6, he offered that the performance would take place from
1000 on June 7. Lunch would be served afterwards at the CO's
private dining room for the foreign CO's, their XO's and the
interpreters. Furthermore, a French brigadier general from the
western military district would be there. Before going to bed, my
CO asked me to tell the captain in charge of the organization of
all this that he wouldn't be able to come, as he had to take 70
Norwegians to the Roissy airport. I was supposed to come with
him, but was ordered to stay with the Norwegian CO and XO, so
that they could have an interpreter with them during the lunch.
Sunday June 5, 1994
On that day, the same order was given by the two COs to
everybody: Get some sleep! Therefore, I got up at 0900 and, as
three days before, the day was spent fixing small problems. One
Norwegian soldier for instance had had problems with his ears
since the landing at the Roissy airport, and wanted a doctor to
During the afternoon, I learned that a Polish captain and his
lieutenant had been in town the night before, and drunk a bit too
much: Before returning to their barracks (downtown Rouen), they
broke shop windows and car windscreens. The officer on duty,
seeing that they both were drunk as hell, had them thrown into
jail and, the next morning, reported to their CO. Mad as hell,
the latter immediately ordered all his officers to line up
outside, and the drunk captain to come. Then he began hitting
him, in front of all his colleagues. The Polish colonel, after
having finished beating up his captain, had his hands covered
with blood (maybe you remember one of the Commodore 64 hit
game "The Way of the Exploding Fist"?).
At 1700, we left for the Ver-sur-Mer ceremony (three hours
away), organised by Mr. Raymond Triboulet, former French
minister. He is now an old man, but he has been organizing
commemorations of the Normandy landing every year since the end
of WW II. This year, he had to do them on June 5, because of the
next day's busy time schedule. Thankfully, the weather was sunny.
The organization was lousy though: First of all, the "gendarmes"
couldn't tell us where we had to go after having parked the buses
and the trucks. Second, there was still the same language-
problem: I had to tell the American detachment (part of the 1st
Infantry Division) where to stand and when to start: The French
major in charge didn't speak any English. Third, there was a huge
delay. Everything began two hours after the planned time, and,
moreover, various speeches followed which neither we nor the
Norwegians knew anything about.
Finally, as the French CO and I were sitting in the gallery, a
bus suddenly arrived. Out of it, came a Norwegian colonel (Air
Force), the lieutenant commander we already met at the Beauvais
airfield and two civilians! I reported that to my CO, and we
immediately went down to greet them, even though we were shocked
that we didn't know anything about their arrival. It turned out
that one of the civilians was the Norwegian Defence minister, the
other one being a female interpreter from the embassy in Paris.
The Air Force colonel was the Norwegian military attaché in
Apart from all this, the ceremony went well. The Norwegians
were, once again, admired by both civilians and military people.
They are really fine ambassadors for their country! We left
immediately after and ate our dinner in the buses.
During the trip, the Norwegian captain called home (that is to
say the Royal Guards' HQ in Oslo), using a cellular phone, to
find out who had won the football match between Denmark and
Norway. To my greatest dismay, Norway had won by 2 to 1, which
naturally caused a lot of teasing by the Norwegian officers: I
could only reply that Denmark was still Europe's champion!
When we arrived, we learned that the military parade that the
71st Engineer Battalion's CO wanted to organize had been
cancelled, due to a too little number of participants (the Polish
delegation was supposed to leave on June 6 for instance).
However, the lunch was kept.
We finally went to bed at 0230, knowing that we would only get
two hours of sleep: Omaha beach was waiting for us!
Monday June 6, 1994
I got three hours of sleep though: I heard neither my alarm
clock ring nor the knock kindly given at my door by a Norwegian
2nd Lieutenant. Thankfully, at 0530, I heard noise in the
corridor. I glanced at my watch and... jumped out of bed directly
into the shower!
We left Oissel at precisely 0615, just like two days before. The
sky didn't look very good, but at least it wasn't raining. When
we arrived at the Omaha site (the important roads around Caen had
been reserved to the official delegations and the vets!), an
error caused by a stupid French "gendarme" that didn't want to
listen to our explanations nor check our papers (he thought he
knew better) caused a huge traffic jam: 40 buses got stuck at a
place where none of them were supposed to be! But things turned
out pretty well, and we finally arrived at the same place as on
The time table was going to be exactly the same as on the
rehearsal, except that we would have two hours extra: The
Norwegians would have to go down to the beach at 1235 instead of
1035. The extra time was spent eating and taking pictures (we had
a beautiful view over the ocean that was filled with warships -
the huge and brand new American aircraft carrier USS George
Washington was there, as well as USS Guam and other vessels from
After having eaten and prepared, we went down to the road along
the beach, and marching began. Again, it was becoming a habit, I
had to watch "my" Norwegians walk past me and stay to translate
for the American, British (RAF) and Canadian delegations. At
least I got a picture taken of the leader of the USAREUR band
(CINC's own, as it was written on the drum!) and me, one minute
before he had to march over to the square. Obviously a precious
Afterwards, I began walking towards the spot from which the
Norwegian musicians were supposed to begin the final march (the
armed troops were already standing on the beach - they had to
stay there for about two hours!). On my way, I met a US veteran
who asked me if he could go to the place where he had spent four
and a half months in 1944 - he hadn't come back to Normandy since
then. After all these years, he still remembered the landscapes
and where he had spent these months - one or two miles eastwards.
He had tears in his eyes, and so had I, seeing an old man that
had come such a long way to see Bloody Omaha again, after 50
years. It was too much for me!
There was a special mood hanging in the air: Vets from many
countries were there. I saw one of them, an American, wearing a
jacket on which it was written "D-Day veteran 1944-1994". Others
were wearing small plaques on them, with their names and the
units to which they belonged: They were hoping to meet people
they hadn't seen for years. Some had come with their children and
grand children, either because they couldn't travel alone due to
their age, or because they wanted to show their family where they
had landed and how bad a time they've had. It was really
The Norwegian musicians, who this time had to wait outside for
the final march, were handling the situation beautifully, so I
went back to see the three that would have to raise the flag
later on. The 2nd lieutenant in charge asked me if we could swap
our white gloves for the rest of the day, as one of his was torn
on the side. I naturally accepted.
The VIP's then began to come, one after the other, in a
carefully planned order. I watched them arrive in their cars from
the other side of the square: President Bill Clinton, Queen
Elizabeth II and the other heads of state. Twenty-one shots were
fired by the French frigate Duguay Trouin's guns when President
Afterwards, the other "activities" began: First, an old DC-3
Dakota and two P51 Mustangs flew over the square, followed by
modern fighters and the "Patrouille de France" (the equivalent of
the British Red Arrows). Out on the sea, an impressive naval
parade was taking place. All this was beautiful and, to some
extent, moving too. The flags were raised and the flag bearers,
that had landed on the beach on board of five amphibious vehicles
bearing the names of the D-Day beaches, arrived on the square.
I then went back to the Norwegian musicians, that had been
joined by the armed troops. A Norwegian 2nd Lieutenant told me
that one of his soldiers had lost his bayonet on the beach. I
promised him that I would take care of that, although nothing
could be done before the parade: The most important part of the
ceremony was about to begin.
Indeed, it was finally time for the parade to start. I came to
stand at what might be called the jumping off line, translating
the necessary instructions for the different delegations, before
they began marching. In fact, everything went rather quickly
(about 2 minutes and 30 seconds between each delegation), but it
didn't prevent me, or the people attending, from being touched by
this beautiful parade. The music played was wonderful, the vets
and the crowd were cheering and the weather was beginning to
clear up... I later learned that a British veteran had died of a
heart attack during this parade: Obviously sad news, but could
this old man have died a better death than on Omaha beach, on the
50th anniversary of D-Day?
Remains to say that various speeches were made afterwards, two
by veterans, but I didn't listen to them, as I was on the beach
looking for the bayonet that had been lost by the Norwegian
soldier! I had a funny impression being there, alone, 50 years
after thousands of American soldiers... I finally found the
bayonet though and began going back to the buses that would take
us to Villon-les-Buissons, to the French-Norwegian ceremony.
A counting was carried out when we reached the buses and we left
right away. Our gendarmerie-escort was supposed to make things
easier for us, but in fact traffic was terrible, so we arrived in
Villon-les-Buissons late, just in time to set up our
organization: The French delegation was there already and so were
the veterans (mainly French and Norwegian) and the crowd: Edouard
Balladur, the French Prime Minister, and Harald V, His Majesty
the King of Norway, were supposed to arrive in a short while!
The Norwegian memorial is in fact located outside Villon-les-
Buissons, at a crossroads. The weather was nice, even sunny.
Nothing to do with the lousy weather we had 48 hours before,
during our recce! A lot of Norwegian people were there, as well
as young Norwegian girls in their country's national costume (I
found out that they were school-girls taking their final year in
Bayeux). I only had time to exchange a few words with them,
before going back to my work. However, I knew that it was only a
temporary postponement, because a reception organised by the
Norwegian embassy in France was going to take place after the
ceremony, in Villon-les-Buissons' town hall.
I was immediately asked by a relieved but stressed French major
to explain to the two Norwegian soldiers that had been appointed
to hold the spray of flowers what their role would be: When to go
forward and stand to attention, the timing with their two French
counterparts, etc. Afterwards, I went down to the other side of
the road, translated some instructions to the Norwegian flag-
bearers, who in fact didn't need them, because they had been
briefed thoroughly before.
About 15 minutes later, we saw two helicopters: They landed 150
meters away from me. Out of one of them came Edouard Balladur
(French Prime Minister), François Léotard (Defence Minister) and
some other VIPs. Immediately after came two or three limousines,
which stopped in front of the French Ministers: It was H.M. King
Harald V and his suite. After greeting each other, they all
walked towards the memorial; Edouard Balladur and H.M. King
Harald V sat on two chairs in front of the memorial. The speeches
followed: First H.M. the King of Norway, then Edouard Balladur.
After the Norwegian King had spoken, I began applauding,
together with all the Norwegian people that attended the
ceremony. This caused some amusement among the other French
soldiers that were there: They didn't understand why I was
applauding something which, as a French officer, I couldn't
possibly have understood. I had to explain to them that I was the
Norwegian delegation's interpreter, hence my enthusiasm. The
female interpreter we had seen in Ver-sur-Mer the night before
did the translation into French.
The Norwegian King and Edouard Balladur both held moving
speeches, and the ceremonial parade that followed was really
beautiful. Once again, I couldn't prevent tears from rolling down
my cheeks, thinking about all those young soldiers that had died
fighting for the liberation of Europe and watching these old men,
remembering their fallen comrades.
After the ceremony, Edouard Balladur followed H.M. King Harald V
back to his car, which left for the town hall. The French Prime
Minister, his Defence Minister and the other VIP's then went back
to their helicopters, which immediately took off, destination
The rest of us walked down to the town hall, located some 800
meters away. Champagne, juices, as well as cocktail snacks were
served. The Norwegian Royal Guards began playing music, and,
well, I must say we spent two very nice hours there. I spoke with
the Norwegian girls, talked with some people, had some good
laughs with the Norwegian lieutenants, and then, suddenly, a
Norwegian veteran came to me.
This man had been on board the Norwegian frigate that was sunk
by the Germans on June 6, 1944. It was the first ship sunk by the
Germans on D-Day, which has turned it into a symbol. He wanted to
know why, as a French officer, I spoke Danish to the Norwegians.
I explained my role to him and, when asked some more questions,
gave him a resume of "the story of my life". He seemed satisfied
with my answers, wished me good luck for the future and we said
good bye to each other.
Afterwards, a female captain of the French Army's service de
santé (the equivalent of the US Army Medical Service or the
British Royal Army Medical Corps) came to tell me about the case
of a Norwegian soldier who had passed out just before the
beginning of the ceremony (I didn't know anything about it!).
Anyway, the news was good, as he wasn't going to the military
hospital after all, he already felt better. He would be back in
15 minutes. I immediately reported that to the Norwegian CO and
to the lieutenant who commanded the platoon to which to the
Norwegian soldier belonged.
At 2130, it was decided that we would leave because we were, to
say the least, quite tired; besides, we still had a long way
home! The buses and trucks were loaded and off we went, back to
Oissel. We did however have two new passengers with us: Two
Norwegian girls, who wanted to be dropped downtown Rouen - which
we accepted to do.
Again, as I was in charge of delivering the special forms at
each toll-booth on the highway back to Oissel, I didn't manage to
sleep a lot. That wasn't the case of the others: Nearly everybody
was fast asleep.
Upon arrival in Oissel, the Norwegians unloaded their arms and
music instruments, final instructions were given, I fixed a few
practical problems and... I got my 1st Lieutenant paratrooper
back again! He had to leave the next morning with the 70
Norwegians that were going back to Oslo, via the Roissy airport.
His jump on June 3rd had gone pretty well, but a second jump
supposed to take place on June 6 had been cancelled, due to bad
I then had a quick talk with the Norwegian CO and his XO, so we
could set a time for a meeting during the next morning. Details
had to be checked and we wanted to prepare for the lunch of the
next day: Find out where it was exactly, who was coming, etc. We
settled for 1100, which gave me time to see the battalion's XO
I went to bed afterwards, overwhelmed by all the things I had
heard and seen in the previous 24 hours. Still, I went out like a
Tuesday June 7, 1994
The first thing I noticed when I woke up was that the 1st
Lieutenant para hadn't slept in my room. I will never know where
he slept during that night, as the people going to Roissy
(including him) had left early in the morning, with my CO.
After breakfast, I went to see the battalion's XO who very
kindly drew me a plan showing how to get to the battalion's
dining room. I'm glad I got that, otherwise we would probably
never have found it!
At 1100, I went to the meeting with the Norwegian CO and his XO.
It took place at the officer's mess. We had a cup of coffee,
discussed the events of the day before and talked about the
details laying ahead. A French lieutenant-colonel from Rennes
joined us, some papers had to be signed. I also asked if I could
come to Paris with them the next day (the Norwegian embassy had
rented three buses and a truck), as I had to go to Paris too.
Permission granted! Finally, I gave some orders to the bus
drivers: The buses had to be ready for a trip to Rouen with the
Norwegian soldiers at 1400. At 1150, we went to the dining room.
When we arrived there, the Dutch delegation was already waiting.
The Canadians arrived shortly afterwards, then came the
battalion's CO and his officers. A drink was served, and
conversations began. With one of the battalion's captains, we
talked about the equipment used by armed forces to cross rivers
(motorized floating bridges for instance). The brigadier general
from Rennes came a bit later, and made a fine speech. He gave the
Western Military District's medal to the foreign CO's, and got
presents in return. So did the battalion's CO.
Lunch was excellent, as the battalion's cook is a civilian and a
real feinschmecker. We ate a delicious "Canard à la Rouennaise"
and drank fine wines. I got to sit between the Norwegian CO and
the French brigadier general. Various subjects were discussed:
The D-Day commemorations of course, but also the commemorations
of the VG and VJ in 1995, the reductions in personnel in the
armed forces everywhere and...food habits.
The general also asked me how come I spoke Norwegian: I
corrected that, telling him that I spoke to the Norwegians in
Danish, that they answered in Norwegian and that we understood
each other perfectly. Afterwards, I gave him "the story of my
life", the same I'd told the Norwegian veteran the evening
before... He was impressed by the fact that I spoke several
languages, which is indeed unusual in France, but not in northern
Europe. After all, I'm Danish too!
The Norwegians, used to eat rather quickly, were once again
fooled by the French cuisine: We finished eating one hour later
than they expected (I did tell them that arranging a meeting with
their officers at 1345 was a bit early, but...). They left in a
bit of a hurry, whereas I wanted to say goodbye to everyone
before doing so. I finished with the general, telling him that I
had been honoured to sit beside him during the lunch and to have
had the opportunity to exchange a few point of views with him. He
took me aside, gave me compliments like "the Army needs people
like you", "if the French young people are like you, then I am
confident for France's future". He finished wishing me good luck
for my return to my studies next year and gave me a medal, the
same that he had given to the foreign CO's! I was overwhelmed
with pride and joy, but, honestly, a bit ashamed too: I didn't
feel I deserved that.
I spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my return to Paris,
but I also managed to sleep a bit and to make a few phone calls.
It was during one of these phone-calls that a friend told me:
"You don't need to tell me where you are, I know: I saw you on TV
Dinner was served, as usual, at about 1915. It was our last
evening with the Norwegian officers, so the mood was a bit
special. After the main dish, the Norwegian CO took the word, and
made a speech on behalf of all the Norwegians, thanking first the
French CO for everything he had done in the previous week to make
things easier for them (and he had indeed done a lot), and then
me, for my translations, good humor and "constant willingness to
help". While he thanked us, his XO went to the other side of the
room and came back with presents for us. I got cufflinks, lapel
pins and an escutcheon, all bearing H.M. Harald V's name; I also
got two CD's with the Royal Guards' music which I had enjoyed so
much and, above all, a beautiful portrait of a gardeoffiser
(officer of the Royal Guards). Behind it, a few words had been
written, and all the Norwegian officers had signed underneath. I
couldn't believe it!
The rest of the evening went beautifully: We had a few beers,
talked and laughed, exchanged addresses, etc. Afterwards, I went
to see the battalion's security officer, to tell him that he
could expect a civilian truck at 0600 and three civilian buses at
0700 the next day: We didn't want problems to arise while we were
I went to bed at about 2330, after having cleaned my room, still
not believing all the things that had happened to me in the past
Wednesday June 8, 1994
I woke up on time to eat breakfast, leave my room in a proper
condition and to say goodbye to the company's XO that had been
with us to the Omaha beach rehearsal, and so helpful during our
stay at the 71st Engineer Battalion's barracks.
I also said goodbye to my CO. I promised to send him photos and
we both agreed that "our" solution was the best: One CO handling
the organization in itself and an interpreter concentrating on
details and on facilitating the communication between people.
Indeed, other delegations, which had only had one officer to
accompany them, had not always been lucky.
My CO was supposed to drive back to Caen before going home, so
he also said good bye to the Norwegians. The rest of us left
Oissel at 0900, heading for Paris.
As we entered France's capital city, and as I recognized the
route, I told the two Norwegian lieutenants, that had now become
friends, where we were going and what they saw. They immediately
asked me to use the microphone and play tourist-guide for the
entire bus, not only them. Great idea, I thought, and there I
was, showing the Norwegians the "voie Georges Pompidou" along the
Seine river, the "Maison de la Radio", the Bir-Hakeim bridge, the
Eiffel tower and the Paris morning traffic! We arrived shortly
afterwards at the "Ecole Militaire", where the Norwegians were
supposed to have lunch.
It turned out that it was a good thing that I had come with the
Norwegians to Paris: We had to find out where they could eat and
who to contact beforehand. The French people in charge did not,
as predicted, speak any English, so I fixed the details, the
Norwegian XO being with me. He very kindly offered me to eat with
them, but I turned down the offer. I promised I'd be at the
"Place des Invalides" on time to watch their parade and to say
good bye though. I went home after having seen the first
Norwegians begin to eat, a sign that everything was going well.
I was back at the "Place des Invalides" at 1615. I managed to
talk a bit with some Norwegians before and after the parade,
which was, as I knew because I had seen the rehearsals in Oissel,
really beautiful and, most important, so different from what
French soldiers usually do on such occasions. Among other VIP's,
two French five star generals were there, as well as the
Norwegian Army chief of staff and his aide de camp (a captain
that had left the Royal Guards very recently).
Following the piece of advice given to me by a Norwegian friend,
I watched everything from the first floor: It gave a much better
view and there were less people. The parade lasted about 45
minutes in all. Things went very quickly afterwards.
I said good bye to everybody, thanking them once again for their
presents. I told them what a great experience it had been to meet
Norway's Royal Guards. I promised to send photos and a recording
of the Omaha-beach ceremony broadcasted on French TV. They, in
return, would supply me with various things from Norway I had
I went home afterwards, feeling a bit depressed after the
fantastic week I'd had. The next day would see my return to my
usual work, which, even though it is interesting, suddenly seemed
boring as hell...
My trip to Normandy has been, as you can imagine, one of the
greatest episodes of my life. I will never forget what I saw.
I would like this article to be an incentive for readers that do
not know this period of Europe's history to document themselves
on it. Overlord is the greatest military operation ever carried
out, and "the beginning of the end of nazism in Europe" (Winston
Before finishing off, I would like to say the following: The
"Pointe du Hoc", Sainte Mère Eglise, the museums of Caen and
Bayeux (to name but a few), the remains of the artificial harbour
in Arromanches, Pegasus Bridge and the different cemetaries are
definitely worth a visit. Besides, you'll be a different person
after having seen them.
I would also like to thank Richard for inserting this article in
ST NEWS. Even though it has nothing to do with what is usually
published, I hope you found it interesting.
CINC : Commander in Chief.
CO : Commanding Officer.
EMIA : Ecole Militaire Inter-Armes (French officer-school for
HQ : Headquarters.
NCO : Non-commissioned Officer.
PX : Post Exchange.
RAF : Royal Air Force.
USAREUR : US Army in Europe.
VG : Victory over Germany (1945).
VJ : Victory over Japan (1945).
WW2 : World War 2.
XO : Executive Officer.
1 - Army and Air Force
France Norway United States
Sous-lieutenant Fenrik 2nd Lieutenant
Lieutenant Løytnant 1st Lieutenant
Capitaine Kaptein Captain
Commandant Major Major
Lieutenant-colonel Oberstløytnant Lieutenant-colonel
Colonel Oberst Colonel
Général de brigade Oberst I Brigadier general
Général de division Generalmajor Major general
Général de corps d'armée Generalløytnant Lieutenant general
Général d'armée General General
2 - Navy
France Norway United States
Enseigne de Vaisseau 2 Fenrik Ensign
Enseigne de Vaisseau 1 Løytnant Lieutenant Jr. Grade
Lieutenant de Vaisseau Kaptein Lieutenant
Capitaine de corvette Orlogskaptein Lieutenant commander
Capitaine de frégate Kommandørkaptein Commander
Capitaine de vaisseau Kommandør Captain
Contre-amiral Kommandør I Commodore
Vice amiral Kontreadmiral Rear Admiral
Vice amiral d'escadre Viseadmiral Vice Admiral
Amiral Admiral Admiral
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.