Monday, May 8, 2017

May 2-5 - A touch of Brittany and a taste of Normandy Day 3

Our objective today is the Normandy D-Day landing beaches to relive the events of  June 6, 1944 - A somber task. The day is grey and blustery with diminished visibility and fog at sea. It's a perfect weather pairing for remembering those who perished in the Allied Invasion of Normandy.

We had a continental breakfast (croissant and coffee) at a crèperie across the street from the museum where we will start our day.

Bayeux is only 20 minutes from Arromanches where there is a Musée du Débarquement which will give us a solid understanding of the Invasion from planning to execution. Two videos with footage from the invasion along with models of the landing site and the building of the artificial Mulberry Harbor explain how D-Day unfolded.

Parts of Mulberry Harbor are still visible in the waters off Arromanches.
A piece of Mulberry Harbor
A short distance out of town there is a lookout that gives a good view of the whole of the British landing site we called Gold Beach.
view over Arromanches

Parts of Mulberry Harbor left in Arromanches

Compared to the last time Dave and I visited these D-Day sites, the signage is much improved and the experience is much more personalized as we see and hear stories about military and civilians who were present at the time.

We stop next at Longues-sur-Mer to see German pillboxes responsible for shelling on Gold (British), Juno (Canadian) and Omaha beaches.

We drove from these pillboxes 300 meters to the communications bunker on the edge of the cliff which was responsible for giving the coordinates to the pillbox gunners to aim their guns.
communications bunker on edge of cliff
This defense was under the command of the German Navy and had naval guns which had a longer range. It was important that these guns be taken out early. American, French and British ships fired on these positions all day and were finally successful 12 hours later in silencing them. The cement pillboxes are a sharp contrast to the quiet beauty of today's rural landscape.
German pillboxes with field of Colza (plant used to make Canola oil) in foreground
Except for needing these grotesque remains of war to remember not to get into this trouble again, the countryside would slowly bury this history.

Our next stop along Hitler's Atlantic Wall defense system was at Pointe du Hoc.
Pointe du Hoc
This highest point between Omaha and Utah beaches was taken out by Rangers scaling the cliff while US artillery kept the Germans occupied so they couldn't shoot down at the Rangers. There was a huge death toll - only 90 of 225 survived, but that was due to fighting once on top of the cliff and lack of reinforcements for 48 hours. This battlefield has been left pretty much the way they were at the end of the war. Deep pits and broken battlements bear witness to the fighting here.
bomb crater at Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc

The statistics on deaths on D-Day and in the following weeks of liberating inland towns are staggering and nowhere is that more striking and emotionally charged than at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.
There is a new visitor center building with amazing multi-media displays of the planning, the attack and the liberation of Normandy. Again, as seen through the pictures and words of those who took part, the displays in this visitor center are worth hours of your time to visit.

And then you leave the center, walk along above Omaha Beach (which is now empty and grey with the day's dullness)
Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach
 and then into the cemetery to the thousands of neatly aligned markers, each one covering the body of a son or husband lost on that day.
Unidentified bodies were buried as Comrade in Arms
Seeing these costs of war makes one wonder how anyone could ever choose war over compromise in solving world problems.

The drive back to Bayeux is subdued and reflective.
Hedge rows line the roads on our way home
Following just this part of WWII has been exhausting physically and emotionally. And we know how much more destruction and death ravaged the European and South Pacific countries before peace came. But we have also seen how the best parts of people are displayed in the worst of times. Civilians in defiance of Hitler, hiding Jewish children and families, feeding imprisoned soldiers, carrying intelligence to the allies, caring for the wounded whatever their nationality, feeding and housing their homeless neighbors. Race, religion, color or politics didn't matter to those reaching for freedom. Ordinary people making a difference in the lives of those around them. Why must it take war before we all unite against death and destruction? Why can't we care for our neighbors when there isn't a war? Are we destined to make the same bad decisions the fascists made 70 years ago? Humans have such short memories. Those who knew this madness first hand are now gone and we, their children, know little of their lives and sacrifices. Their hope for us was to be spared such horrific experiences. We all have a small part to play in keeping that hope alive. We need to be ordinary people making a difference in the lives of those around us.
Memorial at the American Cemetery


  1. Sobering reminder of the ravages of war!

  2. We really don't seem to learn, do we? Are we on the road to being the aggressors this time? We all need to remember history and do everything in our power to stop this from happening again.