It is altogether fitting, I think, that I sit down to write this piece on this date, June 6, and try to describe to you what was easily the highlight of our recent "Paris To The Heart of Normandy" vacation.
Last Tuesday, May 29, we departed on an excursion that was the longest day (yeah, I had to say that) of our trip. We boarded coaches from our ship and took a two hour bus ride that delivered us to three of the D-Day landing beaches, Juno, Gold, and Omaha. We caught glimpses of Juno Beach from our coach, and then stopped in the town of Arromanches.
Arromanches overlooks Gold Beach,
and from there you can still see remnants of the "mulberries" which were installed by the British Army to create artificial harbors for Allied ships to dock and unload troops and supplies.
Arromanches also houses a D-Day Museum that we were able to visit, as well as a number of establishments that serve the tourists that constantly visit the town. Some of those scenes....
We recreate Eisenhower and Montgomery
surveying the battleground.
Our tour then took us to the still standing Nazi bunkers and gun placements that still overlook the beach.
Looking out over the English Channel.
Hard to see on this foggy, misty day.
Following lunch, we then were taken to the American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to describe the feelings that overtake you in looking at the sight of over 9,000 white crosses in this beautifully tended cemetery.
A ceremony was conducted that had our entire group turn and face the cemetery while The Star Spangled Banner was played on a bell carillon. We then turned to the statue as that same carillon played Taps.
Then this young lady from the American Battlefield Monuments Foundation addressed us.
She is a native of Normandy and she told us all of the gratitude of the people of Normandy and all of France to the American and Allied Forces for what happened on June 6, 1944 and in the days and months that followed. "When you go back home" she told us, "please tell everyone that we are forever grateful and that we shall never forget what was done for us."
Each of us on our tour was given a rose that we could place on a grave or an appropriate spot in the cemetery. I had decided that I would find the grave of a soldier from Pennsylvania to place my rose, and I found this one.
It was only after I placed the rose on the grave that I saw the date on the cross.
PFC James F. De Vine Jr was killed in the Battle of Normandy on June 11, 1944, the date that was my Dad's thirty-first birthday. It gave me chills.
Who was James De Vine? Where in Pennsylvania did he live? Did he have a family? Does he have children and grandchildren that have visited this site? Questions about which I shall always wonder.
As our time at the cemetery was ending, I managed to get this picture of a group of young schoolchildren, presumably French schoolchildren, who were visiting that day as part of a school tour. If they are indeed French schoolchildren, it is good to see that the story and lessons of D-Day are being imparted to these following generations.
Then it was on to our final stop of the day, Omaha Beach itself. I shall let these pictures tell the story.
A simple road sign tells you where you are going.
The English Channel as seen from Omaha Beach. It was a very misty and foggy day when we visited. So much so that we were unable to see the cliffs that overlooked the beach. That was a little disappointing, but, somehow, we felt it was appropriate for the mood of the day.
The flags of the Allied Nations fly over Omaha Beach.
This is perhaps our favorite group photo of our entire trip.
Dan and I with Vince Tortora. We met Vince and Linda on the boat and
shared many of our meals with them. A great guy.
In 2018, members of the United States Army visit Omaha Beach as tourists.
These soldiers are currently stationed somewhere in Italy.
Saw this very stark reminder of what happened in 1944 along a Norman
roadside as we left Omaha Beach to head back to the boat.
A special thank you to our tour guide on this day, Angelique.
She made history come alive for us.
I can think of no other occasion in my life where the sense and the weight of history was so overwhelming and so all-encompassing as it was on our visit to the D-Day Beaches and the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. In his 1995 book, "My War", Andy Rooney wrote the following:
"There have been only a handful of days since the beginning of time on which the direction the world was taking has been changed for the better in only one twenty-four hour period by an act of man. June 6, 1944, was one of them.
"What the Americans, the British, and the Canadians were trying to do was get back an entire continent that had been taken from its rightful owners and whose citizens had been taken captive by Adolf Hitler's German army. It was one of the most monumentally unselfish things one group of people ever did for another."
I can think of no other words to say about the experience of this visit.
We shall never forget it.