Tuesday in Normandy
This was a highly emotional day because most of the day was focused on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
As we drove to the U.S. WWII War Cemetery, William Jordan (who has written books about D-Day and the Battle of Normandy) told us about the planning and execution of that day.
There are 9,387 soldiers buried at the American War Cemetery of Colleville-Sur-Mer- their average age at death was 24 years old. The white marble gravestones (shaped into crosses for Christian solders and stars of David for Jewish soldiers) are perfectly lined up on the field that overlooks Omaha beach. We watched a special lawnmower that arches over each gravestone while cutting the grass around it. The grounds are pristine, with trees and flowers planted here and there- and a view of the English Channel, with the sound of the waves.
These are the American soldiers who died during the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy. They are buried in random order so that no one grave is considered more important that the others. They have buried brothers together but not soldiers from the same regiment. Included are graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942 and three American women.
Only some of the soldiers who died overseas are buried in the overseas American military cemeteries. When it came time for a permanent burial, the next of kin eligible to make decisions were asked if they wanted their loved ones repatriated for permanent burial in the U.S., or interred at the closest overseas cemetery.
The names of 1557 soldiers, whose bodies were never found, are engraved on the wall of the Garden of the Missing. Facing the wall are rose gardens.
This wall serves as the backdrop for a 23-foot bronze statue that symbolizes the spirit of the American youth rising from the waves. Several big maps tell the story of the liberation of Europe by the Allies as well as the story of the operations in the Pacific. There is a round multi-denominational chapel in the middle of the cemetery and on a wall is written: “They endured everything and gave their all so that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.”
We were part of a very moving ceremony at the memorial. We stood in a half circle facing the memorial statue while the three men in our group stood at attention in the middle holding a huge bouquet. The national anthem was played, the men marched to present the flowers and stood saluting as taps was played. We then had a moment of meditation. Tears flowed all around. The French woman who works at the memorial talked about how Normandy will never forget their liberators. She also spoke about the fact that family members who come to visit the graves are usually aunts, uncles and siblings but rarely children- since the men died so very young.
We had some time to walk among the graves. Then we went to the visitor center to watch videos that talked about a few soldiers who died on D-Day- their background, why they were there, how old they were, and what happened to them. I almost ran out of tissues. I’ve attached a pdf that gives some information about the Memorial.
Then we drove to Omaha Beach, where we learned that 4000 men died during the landing. William told us that the military had anticipated that they would lose 10,000.
There had to be split second timing to get men and equipment onto the beach during low tide in the English Channel. Being there and seeing the distance from the water to the end of the beach, it was easy to understand that the soldiers were completely vulnerable- they were soaking in 44 F water, they couldn’t see the enemy and they lost contact with their leaders because their radios got wet. “There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here.” Colonel George A. Taylor – 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division
William told us about the dynamics between Eisenhower, Patton and Montgomery.
We saw the German bunkers, the great gashes in the earth where bombs hit, saw the sheer cliffs that the Rangers climbed up, learned about military strategy and misfortunes, and stood on the beach next to the Les Braves Memorial of Omaha Beach that honors 21,823 Allied heroes who died on D-Day during successive landings on the beach.
The memorial represents three elements: The Wings of Hope, Rise Freedom, and the Wings of Fraternity. The French sculptor Anilore Banon created the monument in 2004, which was commissioned by the French government to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Above the memorial fly flags of various Allied Forces, including Britain, Canada, Belgium, France, Denmark, USA, etc.
We learned about the role of the Engineers, whose job it was to remove all of the obstacles (concrete, metal, bombs) that stood in the way of the Allied landings on the beach. They were supposed to clear 16 paths to the beach but only managed 3 since over 60% of them were killed.
It was an exhausting emotional tour.
We ended our travels at an apple orchard situated in a farmhouse that the Germans left standing and used as headquarters and barracks. There is a silo from the 13th century and the farm buildings were renovated in the 17th century- and I’m assuming more recently than that.
You can see ancient buildings and walls throughout Normandy.
When we got back to Bayeux, I grabbed my dirty laundry and went to the laundromat where a kind woman who didn’t speak English showed me how to do my laundry. You have to get the laundry soap (.80 E), put your clothing into a numbered washing machine, put the soap in just so, then put your money into a wall board (4.50 E), punch in the number of the washing machine and watch it automatically start. Really something- and the same with the driers (.80E/5 minutes!!!)
As I was just finishing up with my laundry, Emily and Lenore saw me and invited me to have dinner with them at an outdoor café, which was very pleasant.
Before I end this message, I have to mention the bathroom arrangements. In Paris, I wrote about the bath with sides higher than my knees and the tiny room.
Here in Bayeux the room is much larger and the bathroom much smaller. I banged my big toe against the wall because I didn’t realize there was a small stair into the bathroom. The glass enclosed shower stall is so very small that you can’t turn around in it!! It is also square shaped with one sharp edge facing out, so of course I hit that same big toe on that.
My room is on the second floor. Since the ground floor is 0, I have 40 circular stairs to climb. This hotel has photos related to the battles and liberation on every wall, even the walls going up the stairs.
The room key is on a key ring that is basically rectangular, as big as my hand and as heavy as a large rock. I think it is made of brass. We have to hang our keys on a hook whenever we leave the hotel.
I’m thinking that I’ll organize my photos when I get home and can transfer them to my computer- then I’ll send them to you indicating which day they were taken. I really want to share the pictures, so you can get a real sense of the places I’ve been and the sights I’ve seen.