A few miles south near Carentan, we met Franck Feuardent, owner of the Manoir de Donville. This 18th century manor house was the site of the Battle of Bloody Gulch, made famous in an episode of the television series "Band of Brothers." American paratroopers were nearly routed by an SS tank division until saved by the arrival of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, aka "Hell on Wheels."
On a tour of the manor grounds, Feuardent pointed out foxholes and let us handle examples of the 12 tons of weapons, helmets, grenades and other artifacts he's dug up. "Two days ago I was searching the other side of this hedge, and the metal detector just started going 'Ding! Ding! Ding!'" Feuardent said.
In his 200-year-old home, Feuardent points out traces of blood stains on the wooden floor of his sons' bedroom, where two soldiers' bodies, one German, one American, were discovered after the battle. "They fought hand-to-hand in my home!" Feuardent says with awe.
"We try to keep the spirit of the Americans who died here alive," Feuardent says. "We never forget. This isn't a museum for me, it's my home."
There's more to do in Normandy than visit war memorials. The Pays d'Auge around the small town of Cambremer is the heart of Normandy's traditional apple cider and apple brandy-making region.
We stopped at Stephane and Lucile Grandval's distillery, Manoir du Grandouet. The family has made cider here for three generations; one of the giant oak barrels where the heady, intoxicating apple brandy known as calvados is aged dates from 1792. We bought a few bottles of a lush, creamy, award-winning cider and they added one as a gift.
The friendly gesture reminded me of a line from the classic D-Day war film "The Longest Day." Gen. James 'Jumpin' Jim' Gavin of the 82nd Airborne tells his troops, "When you get to Normandy, you'll only have one friend - God ... and this," lifting a rifle. For visitors 70 years after the invasion that helped liberate Europe from Adolf Hitler, that's happily no longer true.
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