Coming full-circle with Grand Circle

Author inspired by the “Greatest Generation” in France

Many travelers describe their learning and discovery experiences with Grand Circle Cruise Line as “life-changing.” For Calvin Lyons, a 5-time traveler from Knoxville, Tennessee, those words are especially accurate. After traveling on The Seine: Paris to Normandy River Cruise, he set off on a completely different and life-altering journey—writing a book.

Calvin and Helen Lyons enjoy dinner in Paris.

Calvin and his wife Helen had never taken a river cruise, and this one was tailor-made for them. “It hit areas we’d always been interested in,” he said. They both loved the art and architecture of Paris, and particularly enjoyed the trip to Monet’s Garden in Giverny, in part because they were able to have tea with a local family on their Home-Hosted Visit. Calvin enjoyed his chat with Jacque, who was a former French Air Force pilot, and his wife Monique. “It was a very enjoyable one-on-one interaction,” he said.

Helen buys books at the famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. Both avid readers, the Lyons didn’t know when they booked their Seine river cruise that it would lead to Calvin writing a book.

Yet there was one thing Calvin looked forward to the most: Normandy. “I am a 26-year Army veteran,” the retired colonel said, “And I had never made it to Normandy until then.” He recalls the feeling he had when he looked out over the very spot where so many soldiers lost their lives. “My uncle had landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day,” he said. “I looked out and said to myself, ‘This is where it happened.’”

Then he went to the cemetery. And everything changed.

Calvin recalls seeing one man coming out of the cemetery chapel with tears on his face, his family flanking him as he walked unsteadily. It was a powerful moment for Calvin, because he knew the man must’ve either been here on D-Day or lost someone close to him. He looked out at the sea of more than 9,000 grave markers and said to his wife: “Just think of all the stories buried under those stones.”

Just like that, the idea for Calvin’s book, If These Stones Could Talk, was born.

He spent the next six-and-a-half years meticulously researching and writing. Working with the American Battle Monuments Commission, the American World War II Orphans Network, and his home county newspapers in Ohio, Calvin was able to contact relatives or close friends of 28 World War II Veterans who had been buried overseas. Through these connections—and with the information he gathered in visiting 11 different cemeteries in foreign countries—Calvin was able to tell the stories of 35 heroes of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” In 2014, the world will celebrate that generation when commemorating the 70th anniversary of that world-altering battle.

The memorial statue at the American Cemetery in Normandy. A passenger on the cruise, Rex Roush, laid the wreath at the base of the statue. Mr. Roush’s brother was killed in Normandy about five weeks after D-Day.

In the book, Calvin not only covers the stories of how these soldiers died. He also provides insight into the families who lost their fathers, husbands and sons, and speculates on what the men might have become. Calvin self-published the book (available on, and then spent the next two-and-a-half years making presentations to book clubs, libraries, service organizations, and at book stores. He has since made enough to cover his costs, but to him, writing the book was never about money. It was about creating a lasting record of some of the sacrifices made by soldiers in World War II.

As an added benefit, Calvin has created connections with the families of those featured in the book. He met three families who live near him in Knoxville, with whom he is still in contact. He also spoke with one man who said that he keeps the book on his bookshelf right next to his father’s Purple Heart.

The Seine: Paris to Normandy River Cruise was the first Grand Circle trip that Calvin and Helen took, but the experience was such a pleasant one that he has since taken four others.

After learning a few French phrases in an introductory class on the Seine river cruise, travelers bought bread at a local market. The bread was then used for dinner onboard the M/S Bizet.

“We are enamored with the river cruises,” he said, noting his experiences on trips like the Romance of the Rhine & Mosel. He loves the unique experiences provided on each of the trips, but believes there is one element of each trip that truly makes Grand Circle stand out. “Without a doubt, it’s the Program Directors,” he said. “They know the country, the history, and the architecture, and they develop great relationships with the travelers.”

Calvin and Helen’s three tour directors—Helene Clement, Jamil Azar, and Balwinder de Bois Juzan. Calvin sang their praises, saying each was “intelligent, congenial, and resourceful.”

Calvin’s most recent Grand circle trip was The Great Rivers of Europe on board the M/S River Concerto. One afternoon, while cruising on the Main River, Calvin made a presentation about the American WWII Overseas Cemeteries to passengers. Though several of the more than 120 passengers had visited one or more of the cemeteries, many were not even aware that more than 176,000 American men and women are buried overseas or are listed on the Walls of the Missing.

To Calvin, that moment on the ship was special. “That presentation closed the loop for me and my wife,” he said. “I got the idea for the book while on a Grand Circle Cruise, and I made one of my last presentations on a Grand Circle Cruise.”

If you’d like to learn more about this trip from our travelers, check out this video featuring Grand Circle Cruise Line travelers like Calvin describing—in their own words—what made their experiences in France so memorable.