A Journal, with Pictures

Normandy, France

by on Sep.19, 2015, under Happenings

We arrived Wednesday September 2nd. in Paris and our driver/guide Antoine was waiting at baggage claim and we were off to Caen to the D‑Day museum. This turned out to be one of the best treatments of the subject of the lead up to WWII and the invasion that we have ever experienced. After this visit we went to Cateau La Cheneviere where we would stay while in Normandy.

The next day we started our tour of the Normaday area with a visit to the German Cemetery which contains the graves of over 21,000 German soldiers from WWII. It is a somber reminder of the cost of war and interestingly they are buried standing up, which was a matter of space conservation. It was sad to see the headstones for 17, 18 and 19 year old men.

Our guide was excellent and he then took us to the small village of St. Mere, which is famous for the paratrooper who’s chute caught the church tower. There is a mock paratrooper that hangs from the church today, interestingly the paratrooper survied to fight on. This gave Antoine the opportunity to explain the role of the airborn (101st and 82nd) who captured key villages, bridges and disrupted the German defense. We learned that they had the highest casualtys on D‑Day of any units with over 3000 lost. Several of the churches have stain glass windows with the unit patches or paratrooper displayed in honor of their sacrifice. We then traveled to Utah Beach one of the two invasion beachs the Americans stormed. Here our guide gave us the big picture of how the invasion was planned and excituded. We saw the high ground where the Germans poured machine gun and artillary shells on the beach and saw pictures of the obsticles and mines. Today it was a calm peaceful place far removed from the incredible destruction that occured June 6, 1945. Our guide showed us places where small parts of the big event happened making it more real and personal. We saw the hedgerows, the flooded fields where paratrooper drowned and gliders crash landed, We visited the Pointe Du Hoc where the rangers scaled the cliffs to silence guns that wern’t there and viewed Omaha Beach where the heaviest beach fighting occured with 1500 casualties on D‑day the most of any beach. We visited the German positions and saw that bomb craters still are very visibile all these years later. At the end of the day we had both the big picture and lots of the threads that made up the fabric of one of the greatest military events ever. Just one of the incredible numbers that sticks in our mind is the allies landed over 175,000 troops on Normanday on D‑day. Thoughout the area there are monuments to various units that participated in the invasion as well as monuments to all.

Our last day was spent visiting the American Cemetery which is located overlooking Omaha beach. American soldiers who fought through the battle of Normanday until Paris was liberated are interned there. The 9387 buried here are only a fraction of those fallen, since next of kin could elect bring love ones back to the U.S. or be buried in the country they fell. In addition there is a wall where the 1557 missing in action are listed. In some cases a bronz marker indicates that their remains were later recovered. There is a museum about the invasion with movies and displays, then you can visit the cemetary. There are many crosses of unidentied remains, who’s names must be on the MIA wall, in addition the Nilan brothers are buried side by side who inspired the movie saving private Ryan. It is a sad but very beautiful place that everyone should vist. Interestingly the American cemetary only shows date of death. After visiting the cemetary we drove to Arromanches the site of the man made harbor that was constructed to supply the allied armys before Chebourg was liberated.

After lunch in Arromanches we drove back to Paris where we overnighted then flew back to the United States the next day. It was an incredible trip with great sights, new and facinating places that are steeped in history including more recent history that was made in Normandy.

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