On Friday, another early bus ride was worth it, as we headed out of town for Normandy! After an uneventful three hour ride to the coast, we arrived at the Cean Memorial, in that large modern city. It was modern as it was distroyed 73 years previously! This memorial was not only about the invasion, but also the occupation and liberation. There were many moving displays concerning the removal of the Jews, the evacuation of the children from Paris and much on the culture and actions of wartime France. After time to enjoy this museum we took a short ride to the “beaches!”
We first arrived at Pointe Hoc. This is a prominent cliff that extends out between Utah and Omaha beaches. It made a perfect location for defense as the Germans could place guns aiming down both beaches from one strategic location. On this bluff overlooking the channel and beaches we saw remains of observation “pill boxes” and gun mounts for defending the coast. The ground was completely pocked with craters from the bombs and artillery shells that pounded the coast. This gave mute testimony to the viciousness of the attact.
We then went to Omaha Beach where we could look down from the bluffs and actually walk on the beach. I asked the guide about the use of the beach. It was a blustery and cool day so there were only a few folks down there. I was informed that the memorial organizers asked many veteran groups about keeping it closed as hallowed ground but the reply was overwhelmingly “no, we fought for the freedom to use this ground and want the people to enjoy it!” So it is enjoyed like many great beaches around the world.
Standing in this place, imagining the ships on the water and airplanes overhead, was personally emotional, as my father piloted his B-17 Bomber over these beaches on D-Day. Being there these decades later helped me to apreciate the operation more.
We continued our tour of this memorable area with a visit to the American Cementary, which is on the same bluff just down Omaha Beach. There is a beautiful memorial and interpretation visitor center, and a walk through this cemetery is both emotional and oddly soothing. It seemed to me to represent that an awful peace had settled there. Many of us saw the grave of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. among the other brave men interred in this place.
Our trip then took us along the coast where we saw harbors used for resupplying the army. And off the coast we could see some of the man made “mulberry harbor” floating docks constructed for the invasion.
After a bus trip through several beautiful French villages and by some old chateaus, we were entertained during our return by the give and take of our guide and the two swarthy drivers who argued all day over money. It seems that although we had a clear contract, the tour company is not new to this business, we had a couple of ethnic hustlers that kept trying to get cash from our tour director. He knew to stand his ground and they didn’t realize that he knew their Tunisian language and was a step ahead of their plans. Some of us wondered if we might end up beside the road! But we made it to an interesting little Parisienne restaurant for a nice French dinner!