A former Nazi army captain rode his bicycle back to the French village he helped destroy 50 years ago to apologize and "make peace with his conscience before dying," officials said Saturday.

Helmut Eckhoff, 76, arrived in Crapeaumesnil last weekend after a six-day, 360-mile journey from Aachen, West Germany. Eckhoff spent two days in the village, where crowds held a welcoming party, then returned home by bicycle.Crapeaumesnil, about 40 miles north of Paris, spent three days under fire in June 1940 as the 41st Panzer division confronted the 109th French infantry regiment. The village was razed.

"Since then, I live with the memory of that battle, how we set everything afire and how we wronged the inhabitants and their defenders," wrote Eckhoff in an August letter to Crapeaumesnil Mayor Hubert Detavernier.

"I always wanted to return to Crapeaumesnil in a civilized manner to ask for pardon from the residents."

Detavernier invited Eckhoff to visit the village so he could "make peace with his conscience before dying," officials said.

He spent last Sunday with a French veteran who fought at Crapeaumesnil.