Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Greatest Generation

I had been looking forward to this day our whole trip as I have always wanted to visit Omaha Beach and see where our troops came ashore on June 6, 1944.  We took the 9:10 train from Paris St Lazare station and arrived in Bayeux at 11:15.  We had a little over two hours before our Omaha Beach tour which was perfect as we were able to see the Bayeux Tapestry!

I remember studying the Bayeux Tapestry with Dr. Willis at Converse.  The tapestry is the story of the Norman conquest of England ending with the Battle of Hasting in 1066.  The tapestry is actually embroidered on a linen canvas and is 230 feet long.  It is estimated to have been completed in the 11th century in a monastery in Southern England. 

Bayeux is a charming little town and definitely one that I would like to revisit. It is the quintessential French town with a large cathedral and lots of little shops and cafes.  We had a Croque Monsieur for lunch and a gelato for the walk to meet our tour.

There are a lot of different tours of Normandy for all the D-Day locations.  We opted for a half-day tour for four and half hours visiting Omaha Beach, American Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc with Overlord Tour.  This was the perfect tour for us as it was just enough information without being overwhelming and allowing us to take in all we saw so we could truly appreciate the significance of standing on the very spot of what began the end of WWII in Europe.

Our first stop was Longues sur Mer where the Germans built a portion of their Atlantic Wall.   It was completed in April 1944 by forced labor.  French citizens were required to work three days a week for the Germans if they had another job and six days a week if they didn't have another job.  While it was hard work, the money was better than anything they could make working in town.

Gunner Seat

Allied mortar took out
everyone in the bunker
There were a few poppies in bloom.

The drive to Omaha Beach took us through small country roads the only made me want to come back to explore this part of France.  As much as I love the action of Paris, I am more drawn to the small towns...very ironic as I always thought I would want to live in a big city.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting of Omaha Beach but I know what I saw was not what I expected.  Prior to German occupation, Omaha Beach was a tourist beach and today, thanks to the bravery and sacrifices of our troops, it is once again a tourist beach.  It is not tacky tourist beach but just a beach open to the public. 

The tide was out when we arrived so we were able to get the full impression of the distance our troops had to cover to get from the shore to the cliffs.

The bunkers used by the Germans are still standing
and could be seen from our post on the beach.

Seems like no matter where a Charlestonian goes, they always run into another Charlestonian and today was no exception.  What are the chances that the in a small northern French town on a little tour would I run into another Charlestonian?!  Well, Irvin and Michelle Condon  and her sister's family were the other six people on the tour with us!  The really cool part is that Irvin's uncle was a US Ranger and landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944!  Our guide, Sean, was able to show Irvin where his uncle would have actually landed within 50 yards.


Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.  Prior to the landing this spot was already designated as the cemetery.  Due to the heavy fighting and inability to take the beach as quickly as anticipated, those killed on June 6, were temporarily buried at an alternate location and then moved once the land had been secured.

There are approximately 9,000 soldiers buried here...including 7 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and 4 women.  While far more than 9,000 gave their lives in Europe during WWII, most were repatriated to the US after the war.  Every fallen soldiers' family was giving the option to have their loved one returned to the US to be buried in their hometown or national cemetery if they did not want them to stay in Europe.  Even to this day, if a missing soldier's remains are discovered, the family has the same options...all expenses covered by the government.

Every soldiers' headstone is identical with the exception of two things.  For the fallen Jewish soldiers, they have a Star of David rather than a cross.  For the seven Medal of Honor recipients, their name is in gold and they have a Medal of Honor on their cross.  All headstones face West towards the United States and are in perfect military formation.

Here Rests In Honored Glory
A Comrade In Arms Known But To God

On our way to the final stop, we passed the temporary
cementary for those that fell in the first days of the invasion.

The last stop on our tour was Pointe du Hoc.  The French created a memorial to the 2nd Ranger Battalion under the leadership of LTC James Rudder.  It was during the landing on Omaha Beach, the Ranger motto was first spoken..."Rangers, Lead the Way"

View from inside the bunker at Pointe du Hoc.
Imagine the view the Germans had on June 6, 1944.

We made our way back to town and Sean dropped Julie and I off at the train station so we could catch the 6:51 back to Paris.  Our train arrived back in Paris at 9:15 and we headed to a cafe by the station for dinner before taking the metro back to our hotel.  Please note that the clock says 10:10...that is PM!  It doesn't get dark here until 11:00PM here in the summer.

What an unbelievable day we privileged we are to to have been able to see the spot where the Greatest Generation landed and began the liberation of Europe!

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