The afterlife of a Band of Brothers Tour

The story of Joseph Neri

Beaches of Normandy Tours
Joseph Neri in Luxembourg
(Photo: Joseph Neri)

On our tours, we strive to give you a special experience more than just visiting one site after the other. Our Tour Directors always do their best to deliver a trip of a lifetime and contribute to creating a special bond between our Passengers. Sometimes, even the afterlife of our tours is just as exciting as the trip itself since for many Passengers the experience does not end with the tour due to the many friendships formed while being together on the road. Several other unexpected outcomes can occur, such as the tour photos of Passengers getting published or traces of family members discovered in local archives or books, etc. You may remember from one of our articles (Read our earlier article - WW2 veteran on our tour) that on a tour last summer we had the honor of having World War 2 veteran Mr. Jack Appel on our bus. To add more, in the current article we wanted to tell you about the experiences of another Passenger from the same tour, Mr. Joseph Neri. He will tell you the story with his own words:
 
“I was a 14 year old San Jose Seminary student in Manila, Philippines when I saw the movie “The Longest Day” in December of 1962. Hollywood’s depiction of the US Military’s invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was so realistic, it captured my imagination as a teenager. I praised the heroism of the victorious invasion forces and was touched by the lives that were lost as battle casualties.  I was awed by the exploits of the paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as they dropped from the skies at pre-dawn of D-Day to block German routes to the Americans on the beachheads.  The Longest Day and other war movies like Battleground, Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers gave rise to my fascination for WWII history, particularly that of the Atlantic Theater.  With that fascination was birthed a dream that someday I would be able to visit Normandy.

A photo of the Munich landscape taken from the plane (Photo: Joseph Neri)
A photo of the Munich landscape taken from the plane
(Photo: Joseph Neri)

I immigrated to California in 1985 with my wife, Priscy, and two daughters, Nanette and Gigi. Our life took a different turn in January of 2022 when Priscy lost her fight to cancer. Her death was a year shy of our 50th wedding anniversary, which we would have celebrated in Normandy as planned. Nanette insisted that we should still go anyway as soon as possible to put a dent on our griefs and honor our lost loved one. So, in August 13, 2022, I was on a Delta flight to Munich, Germany with Nanette and grandson, Conor. The flight was the first leg of our journey to Paris, where we joined Beaches of Normandy Tours at Charles De Gaulle Airport. On the bus ride from Paris to Normandy, I saw a cross section of Europe’s beautiful countryside, which gave me a strong feeling that my decision to join the Band of Brothers tour was a good one.

The Ranger Memorial at Pointe du Hoc (Photo: Joseph Neri)
The Ranger Memorial at Pointe du Hoc
(Photo: Joseph Neri)

 The following day, the first day of the tour, I was standing on top of Pointe du Hoc, a 100-foot cliff overlooking the English Channel, where, almost a century ago, a mighty armada of 7000 vessels, carrying some 160,000 men were poised to launch the largest amphibious invasion that would turn the tide of World War II. Few steps away was the World War II Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument. This was erected by the French to honor the American 2nd Ranger Battalion, who scaled the cliff and seized the German artilleries that could have threatened American landing troops on the Omaha and Utah Beaches. The cost of the Pointe du Hoc victory was high. Seventy-five Rangers died in the assault. As I stood there, my feelings were mixed - happy at a dream come true, sad at the thought that blood of heroes paid for my freedom to fulfill my dream unencumbered. 

One of the stained-glass windows of the church in Sainte-Mère-Église depicting the landing of the American paratroopers (Photo: Joseph Neri)
One of the stained-glass windows of the church in Sainte-Mère-Église depicting the landing of the American paratroopers
(Photo: Joseph Neri)
The tour’s intent was to trace the journey of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne from Normandy to the Eagle’s Nest in the South Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden, Germany. I enjoyed every stop we made, not to mention visits to restaurants to sample local cuisines. The visit to the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach was so memorable. As I saw row after row of tombstones, I paid tribute to the young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy.  I took photo of a memorial that portrayed a soldier dragging his wounded buddy on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The photo won 8th place out of 3794 entries in a worldwide competition in London. We dropped by Angoville-au-Plain to visit the 11th century church used by two medics of the 101st Airborne as aid station to treat both wounded American and German soldiers. The townsfolk preserved the blood-stained pews in the church to honor the medics’ heroism and magnanimity. In our visit to the church of Sainte-Mère-Église, I felt a sense of déjà vu, having had vicarious experiences of visiting the church several times through watching The Longest Day over and over again. 
A review of the award-winning photo taken at Omaha Beach (Photo: Joseph Neri)
A review of the award-winning photo taken at Omaha Beach
(Photo: Joseph Neri)

When we made a stop at the Bois Jacques in Bastogne, Belgium, it was like I was on hallowed ground. It was there that the 101st Airborne fought in foxholes during the Battle of the Bulge in the bitter winter of 1944. It was also there that Sergeant Warren H. Muck and PFC Alex M. Penkala Jr. took a direct hit in their foxhole from German artillery and were killed instantly. They were buried in the American Cemetery at Luxembourg. When we visited the cemetery, I purposely searched for their tombstones and that of General George S. Patton, the commander of the 3rd Army, known to have rescued the beleaguered 101st Airborne during the Battle of the Bulge. Our tour culminated in the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s hideaway atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a gigantic rock that rises above the town of Berchtesgaden. We had to drive through the Berchtesgaden countryside to get to the Eagle’s Nest and it was like seeing a wonderland. The countryside landscapes were just beyond description.  From the Eagle’s Nest, I could see Austria and the Austrian Alps.

Another award-winning photo taken at Berchtesgaden (Photo: Joseph Neri)
Another award-winning photo taken at Berchtesgaden
(Photo: Joseph Neri)

Our trip with Beaches of Normandy Tours was an experience of a lifetime. It was a learning experience too as history unfolded before our eyes. It was made more memorable by friendly members of the tour and by Rey Stefan, our quintessential tour guide. My story would have been entirely different, if it were not for these wonderful people. We were privileged to have with us Mr. Jack Appel, a 99-year-old veteran of D-Day.  I was offered a free soda in a café in St. Marie-du-Mont simply because I was with Jack, whom the townsfolk appreciated so dearly.
 
I took as many pictures as I could, mostly landscapes, as I am a Fine Art Landscape Photographer.  With these photos, I could reminisce in the future the wonderful times I had with friends during the Band of Brothers tour. A story of the tour in pictures is on my Fine Art of America website under Collection “Beaches of Normandy Tour - From Normandy to the Rhine.”  
 
I plan to re-join Beaches of Normandy Tours during the 80th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2024. God willing.”
 
Click here to access Mr. Neri’s website and to explore his award-winning photos at
 https://joseph-neri.pixels.com

A photo of Mr. Neri’s group at the Angoville church in Normandy  (Photo: Author’s own)
A photo of Mr. Neri’s group at the Angoville church in Normandy 
(Photo: Author’s own)
If you want to travel on the same type of tour Mr. Neri did, join us on our 9-day economic or 11-day all-inclusive Band of Brothers tours. Book your seats as soon as possible because the most popular ones will get fully booked soon. If you have any questions about our tours, feel free to contact our travel consultants.
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Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"It was truly amazing, I would definitely recommend BoN"D-Day Anniversary Tour, 2023
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"It was everything I could have hoped for and more"Band of Brothers Tour, 2023
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in history that changed the world"D-Day Anniversary Tour, 2023
Total:
4.9 - 223 reviews