There was a point I wanted to make in my last post that I forgot. From Pointe du Hoc we could see the location of one of the battles of the American Civil War, in which the Alabama was sunk. Also, inland from Omaha Beach is Formigny, where the last battle of the 100 Years War was fought. It’s funny how history not only repeats itself, but sometimes in the same places.
We left Pointe du Hoc and drove through pretty Norman landscape.
While in America, it’s baseball, hot dogs and apple pie, in Normandy it’s cows, apple trees, and hedgerows. I always pictured hedgerows as rows of shrubs, but I found that hedgerows are berms at least three feet high with tall trees planted on them in long rows. Every 10 years the branches are cut for firewood, and every 100 years the trees are harvested for lumber. Normandy was covered with hedgerows so each little field had to be won. Tanks could not go through hedgerows without exposing their undercarriage and making them vulnerable. 70% of the hedgerows have been removed since World War II so here’s a picture of one from Flickr since the ones I took in the rain are bad.
On the way, our docent told us some of the background of D-Day, that there were only 3 days per month that the landing could occur because the Allies needed a good moon, a low tide rising at dawn, and of course good weather. These three things were supposed to occur on June 5, 6, and 7 of 1944. D-Day, or Operation Overlord was set for June 5th, but bad weather looked as if it would scrap the whole operation. Then a report came in that there would be a brief break in the bad weather, and because of where the break was coming from, the Germans were not aware of this small bit of good weather. General Rommel went home to see his wife for her birthday, and the other German generals went a few hours away to go over strategy and play war games. I won’t go into detail about it all, but it was an intricate, detailed, and complex operation. There were engineering teams, wire cutting teams, bazooka teams, flamethrower teams…on and on. To hear the plan, and find out what went wrong while being in the area it took place, I was amazed that the whole operation wasn’t aborted. And it almost was. We stopped at Omaha Beach, where unfortunately you can buy an ice cream or a crepe or any number of tacky souvenirs from little shops across the street. I didn’t take pictures of these, I turned my back to them and concentrated on the beach and the monument.
I didn’t realize until I got home that this monument is specifically dedicated to the Americans who liberated France. When I saw all the flags of all the countries who fought on the Allied side, I assumed the monument was dedicated to all of them. I’m almost happy that I didn’t know, because I got goosebumps just reading it so being there, I may have embarrassed myself and cried or something. 🙂
My daughter and I walked to the water to get a feel for just how far these men had to trudge across the beach.
Of course we weren’t wet, weighed down with 80 pounds of supplies, dodging bullets, grenades, or running through an obstacle course of barbed wire, land mines, etc, but I’ll tell you it was a wide each and a long walk. I rolled up my pants and walked into the water, I guess as a tribute or for solidarity.
Our next stop was the American Cemetery and Memorial. No pictures I have ever seen had prepared me for the scope of this hallowed place. Unless taken from the air, there is no way to get every grave in a photo. There are so many….they just go on and on…and on some more. There are 9387 headstones. 45 sets of brothers. 4 women. 3 Medal of Honor recipients. 1 father and son. And we’re not even done. There is a Garden of the Missing with a 360 degree wall containing the names of 1557 more missing in action. The men are buried, not by rank, or division, or by any other means except as they came. One whole unit of brothers, comrades in arms, together as a whole without any distinction. Even the unknowns are buried with the identified.
Our docent was very respectful and basically just slowly led us through, silently raising his arm as we came to each new set of headstones, sweeping his arm to show us each new section. We were given time to wander and look for specific graves if we wished. My daughter and I didn’t have anyone specific to look for so we separated and when we came together again, found that we had each picked a random man to honor. She placed a beautiful shell she had found on the beach atop one headstone, and I had placed my hand on another and whispered thank you.
Fron certain angles, it looks as though the headstones roll gently into the sea.
We were then gathered at one point and our docent showed us the exact spot where the first soldier climbed to the top.
I was no longer taking notes so I have forgotten his name. I’m sure it’s well documented elsewhere. This land has been donated in perpetuity to the American people. The number of graves is not representative of the D Day casualties. Some men were sent home to be buried, some men and women killed after D Day are here. Before we left, our docent took us to see the headstone of Elizabeth Richardson, the American Red Cross worker known as the Doughnut Lady. The doughnuts were a cover, her real mission was to give the men someone to talk to. She helped thousands of soldiers unburden themselves before she herself was killed in an accident.
Our docent also took us to the memorial and talked a little about the invasion, the plan, and the end of the war, using the huge maps contained in the memorial to demonstrate.
The stones on the floor of the memorial are from Omaha Beach.
The ceiling looks familiar…
The “Spirit of American Youth Rising From The Waves” sculpture was created by a New Jersey artist.
It is important to remember that this cemetery is only one of 18 American graveyards on foreign soil. This is the biggest attraction in the area, and schoolchildren come here and to all the sites along this stretch from all over France.
After leaving here we went up into the hills of Les Bains to an overlook from which we could see the remnants of Mulberry Harbor. It is hard to imagine from here that these remnants are three stories high.
Our last stop was the German battery at Longues sur Mer. Here the land has been filled in and while it should be compelling because the actual guns are still here, I felt disconnected, and it was more museum-ish in feel than Pointe du Hoc.
This battery is surrounded by fields of poppies, and you will be happy that my camera died just then. 🙂
Actually my camera told me it was “exhausted” which always cracks me up a little, as if it is accusing me of overuse.
This tour was amazing, and I recommend Context Travel to anyone, as this is my second tour with them and their docents are personable as well as extremely knowledgable. The only drawback to being on a tour like this is not being able to see other points of interest not on the schedule. I knew that there was little chance of seeing the somber German cemetery located here, especially since someone ::cough:: caused the tour to be delayed, but at lunch I also learned that William the Conqueror’s Memorial was here, and as we drove home, we drove right past the building that contained the Bayeux Tapestries, and our driver, remembering my comment at lunch, also pointed out the exit to Memorial du Guillaume Le Conqueror to me. I hated to see our van pass right by without stopping. Only a 2 hour train ride from Paris, then another half hour drive, I could easily go back.
It was a long day, but worth it in so many ways. Thanks for coming along.