Monday September 1st ~ Le Havre, France and the beaches of Normandy
Northwestern France is beautiful. Quaint villages, brilliant long sandy beaches, bright colorful flowers and a fertile landscape. After our ship landed in Le Havre, most of the tour groups either headed east toward Paris, or west to visit the infamous beaches where the Allied Troops landed, on what has become known as D-Day.
When we landed in this port a couple of months back, Tim and I opted to take a local bus and went to the lovely town of Honfleur where we enjoyed a bucket of delicious mussels. Click here if you want to read about that day. I later regretted not taking the day trip to visit the D-Day beaches, but at the time we felt that the excursion on the Princess Cruise was too expensive. This time around we decided to just bite the bullet and go…
There are five named beaches that the allies landed on in 1944, with the goal of pushing back Hitler’s forces and liberating France.
How the beaches were named was interesting to me. According to our guide, the three beaches that were to be stormed by the British and Canadian troops were code-named Goldfish, Swordfish and Jellyfish. The two beaches the Brits were to land on were shortened to Gold and Sword beaches, however the Canadians did not like the name Jellyfish, (or the shorter version, Jelly) so the commander instead named the beach after his wife, Juno. The two beaches that the armed forces from the USA landed on were named after where two specific soldiers were from, Omaha and Utah.
When researching this on the Internet, I now believe this may all be fiction, but it made for a good story at the time.
Our bus ride was around two hours. Arriving at Omaha Beach, was emotional. A large monument had been erected to commemorate the importance of the beach and to honor the fallen soldiers.
The beach itself went on forever in both directions. It was low tide when we arrived and we were reminded that the beach landings were also done at low tide. There was a huge expanse of empty beach where our soldiers were left in the open and many either drown with 75 pound back packs while getting off the landing boats, or were mowed down by German’s entrenched in concrete bunkers.
Tim and I walked down the beach, hand in hand toward the water and then looked back toward the monument to see just how far the soldiers had to travel, vulnerable, unprotected, out in the open. I found myself wiping away a tear or two.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the landing.
Loading back onto the bus, we drove a short distance for a visit and to pay our respects at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Another, larger and more grand memorial was built here, the resting place for over 9000 American soldiers. Most of the graves were marked with marble crosses, row after row, line after line. The occasional Star of David marked the grave of Jewish soldiers.
The cemetery was located on top of a hill, and when we walked along one side, we realized that we were overlooking Omaha Beach itself.
Next to the cemetery is a museum style visitors center with ongoing films and very informative displays. One of the films showed General Eisenhower being interviewed about the turmoil and decisions that led up to the D-Day invasion. Knowing he was probably sending half of these young men to their death was an almost impossible decision to make, yet he believed that the freedom of the world rested on the need to stop Hitler, at whatever cost.
When we finished there, we traveled on to the small town of Bayeux for a delicious French meal, complete with an apéritif and both white and red wine were on the table for us to help ourselves to.
After lunch, as a group, we went to see the Bayeux Tapestry.
“…an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry, which is instead woven—nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.” ~ Wikipedia
What is remarkable about the tapestry is that it was commissioned almost 1000 years ago in the 1070’s and remains an excellent reference of the history of that time.
Then free time to explore the town. For anyone that has followed along on our blog for a while, you know that we have photographed more churches than Carter’s has Little Liver Pills, (link for you youngsters that have no clue what that is) but for some reason the church here stood out for me. So of course…
The town had a few nooks and crannies that gave it great charm and we enjoyed wandering for a while, but before long, whether the emotion of the day took a toll, or we were simply tired, we both felt the need to just take it easy and relax. Finding a park near where we were to meet the bus, Tim took a nap on a bench while I took pictures of a variety of flowers.
Our day came to an end after 1.45 hours on the bus back to the ship, and then dinner with our new found friends. We are seated at a table with two couples, both from Australia – Gaye and Daryl from Melbourne and Colleen and Dennis from Sydney. We are a lively group, with hearty discussions ranging from traveling (of course) to politics and gun control.
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for how well maintained the cemetery is. Most of the fallen were hardly more than children, even younger than our son. I left a part of my heart there today filled with immeasurable appreciation and gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice they paid for my freedom. May they rest in peace.
I’m glad you made it to the beaches this time around! Visiting them and the cemetery was honestly one of the most powerful travel experiences of my life.
Laura, I too am so glad we visited Omaha beach and the American Cemetery. I agree that it was powerful and my emotions got a workout from sadness to gratitude.
This was my favorite story so far. You have written more interesting ones, I am sure, but my father was there. He was a combat photographer “movie” during the action. I do not however know which beach. In a later letter to his mother telling her not to worry about any notification she might get about his being wounded (he told her he had tripped while bird watching) he mentioned that had he known that making movies in his outfit meant you were one of the first to hit the beach, then turn your back on the enemy and film your boys as they came forward, he might have had second thoughts. He told her that to make a point that all was rosy now. He was in all three major European campaigns and he lied to his mother almost continually. I found his still camera partner and got the real story, pretty scary at times! She left me all the correspondence, one of my greatest treasures. He survived the war only to be taken down by cancer when I was six, so I have done a lot of research into his activities, as you might imagine. Thanks again for your blog, I am really enjoy it.
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John, I was so touched by your story about your father. I read it just as we were departing shore and have not had enough Internet service since then to reply. I am awed by his bravery to film our soldiers as they came ashore. How incredibly courageous to not only be one of the first off of the boats, but then to turn his back on the enemy to film the action. To have survived three campaigns and then to loose him to cancer was heart breaking. Thank you so much for allowing us to see a portion of the story through your eyes.
I don’t talk about him much with strangers, but hardly feel you qualify as such anymore. I was young when he died, but he had a year after he was diagnosed and he spent almost every second with me. So I have memories of him. He always answered all my questions, but he had a sense of humor. So, for example, we lived near the ocean and we were watching the sun go down. I asked him where it went. He told me that it went to China, and the job of the Chinese was to beat the flames out so there could be night. He also explained that their eyes were slanted because of all the squinting they did trying to put it out every day. It was a couple of years after he died before that and other stories he told started to register as not exactly true! I had lots of questions, most got answers that were fascinating, but totally false! I have all of the letters and telegrams he sent to his mother, he was not above telling her a tale or two either. She had gotten notified that he had been wounded and was receiving the purple heart, he sent a telegram and told her he had merely tripped while bird watching and had sprained his ankle and that they had blown it all out of proportion! So forth and so on. He wrote her continually so she knew he was all right, but according to him he was just enjoying the european landscape and enjoying himself immensely. She was not fooled, she was the first women superintendent of schools for Oklahoma City, she left all his correspondence to me when she passed, my most treasured possession!
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sounds like a wonderful day. I have always wondered why they landed at low tide, but perhaps it was to keep the boats out of range of the guns? Ever since your last post, I have been trying to think of the name of the little town we visited when we were in that area years ago – it came to me this morning – Dinan. It was a lovely little medieval town where we had lunch and essentially did what you two did – called it quits and just found a place to sit and relax for a few hours. Something about late summer in northern France, huh? It invites relaxing.
I have become smitten with France and hope to spend a month driving the countryside and visiting small villages. It won’t be this year, but perhaps 2015 or 2016. I am not familiar with Dinan, but will look it up. Thanks for sharing that information.
That sounds like a lovely trip – the small villages and country side are so beautiful there. Do look up Dinan, I think you will enjoy it.
That trip we spent a week in Brittany, in a little town called Plouescat, I believe. had a “gite” right on the water, and it was so peaceful and relaxing. we did lots of day trips out from there before we went over to Normandy. just a wonderful trip – I hope you get to go soon!
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Very touching. Brought tears to my eyes. I like the reminder that we fought for a cause and only asked for land to bury our gallant dead!
It was very moving to see both the beaches and the very well maintained cemetery. Sobering to realize how many died to protect our freedom.
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