Originally published 25 March, 2012
Normandy blue sky
We rose this morning to a french country breakfast of homemade yogurt, fresh breads, jams, orange juice, french press coffee, and tea. The B and B we are staying in is just wonderful and our hosts are great. I saw a few reviews on trip advisor about the place, most were great, but one or two were negative. I think the two bad ones were either having a bad day, or our hosts have a crappy room that they only give to assholes. We think the place is awesome!
We started down the road running parallel to the beach. This area is still farm country and it's not yet tourist season. We are in surroundings very similar to where we live in Tennessee. One of the neighboring farmers is even spreading manure today so it smells like Lost Creek when Tom is spreading the fields! The small "towns" here are usually just a cluster of a few houses. Some of these are places I have read about that I thought were real towns. They were strategically important during the war, but are only a crossroad with a few houses and barns.
The little "towns" are usually less than a mile apart. You'll be driving, then there will be an open field for a few hundred yards, then a few more houses...and the new clump of houses have another name and are another town. They're all from the 1500-1600's, old rock structures that don't really seem real. You expect them to be some abandoned structure, then you drive by on the small street and see the home owners through the window watching soccer on a big screen TV.
Near the Big Red One memorial, Omaha Beach
We picked a Omaha Beach site at random to start there. We went down a road, and came to a gravel road. We followed it to a parking area. There were a few cars parked there along with a camper van you commonly seen in Europe. Everyone was gathered around the camper van, and when we got closer we found out why. It seems that the two young French guys in the van had locked their keys inside.
I waded into the middle of it, fashioned a tool out of a stave from an old umbrella, and unlocked their van. I pointed out to Laurie that once again, the Americans had bailed the French out! Cut to a view of Laurie shaking her head in dismay......
We walked up the bluff from the parking area and found a memorial to the 1st Division of the U.S. Army.....commonly known as the "Big Red One". It had an amazing view down to the beach, on a bluff previously occupied by German bunkers and defenses. We found that it is not uncommon to build a memorial RIGHT ON TOP of a German bunker or emplacement. Just the allies way of saying "THIS IS MINE, DAMMIT!"
While many places in the world may have forgotten the freedom won by Americans on their behalf.......the people of Normandy are VERY aware of this fact. I doubt you would hear one bad word about the Americans here...and if you did, one of the locals would take care of that person. The Americans have friends in Normandy, without a doubt.
The American Cemetery, Omaha Beach
After leaving the Big Red One memorial, we went to the American Cemetery. Very few people were there, as it is not yet summer and the tour groups and random tourists are not here yet. To be honest, this part (not a lot of people being here) has been very nice.
The American Cemetery is a very sacred place. It is the final resting place for over 9000 people. General Mark Clark was quoted on the exit of the visitors center. He so eloquently stated "If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead."
We walked to the beach first, down the draw from the cemetery to Omaha Beach. I had brought a small bottle from the states, which I filled with sand. Laurie gathered a few stones, which we bagged to bring back with us. Laurie has a jar with stones from around the world. These stones will join the others in the jar.
We walked back up the bluff, marveling at the fact that anyone who could fight their way up this hillside and across this beach, was someone to be admired. We then went into the cemetery.
My dad lived in Monteith Dorm at Virginia Tech....yes...this guy.
We were greeted by a sea of white crosses and Stars of David. It is impossible to imagine what 9000 monuments in one place looks like. It puts the loss of the young men (and one or two women) buried here into perspective. We wandered the graves, reading the names of those who had died.
I had brought a pocket full of small Tennessee flag pins to give to people we had met. I had given a few away, but had a bunch left in my shoulder bag. As we wandered the graves, when I would see one from Tennessee, I would place a pin of the Tennessee state flag on the stone. Something from home for someone who died far from their home. I did this until I ran out of pins.
A side note- After returning to the B and B, I called my father on Skype. I told him where I had been and he commences to tell me about a relative we have buried there. I didn't know this before I went. If I did, I would have looked for the grave. He was my great uncle, by marriage. He married my great aunt Lucie. I knew Lucie, not that well, and certainly not well enough to know that the man she was married to was her second husband. Her first is buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.
We left the American Cemetery and headed on down Omaha beach. We saw another monument to the Big Red One, one to the second division, one to the national guard, there were monuments everywhere. And it is quite clear that the people of this area of France have not forgotten what happened here and the sacrifices made by others.
Shell crater, Pointe du Hoc
We arrived at Pont Du Hoc. This was a cliff top gun emplacement that was attacked from the sea by U.S. Army Rangers. The area was shelled to hell and back by 12 and 14 inch naval guns. The craters still exist and haven't been filled or fixed. The entire area is a battlefield memorial, bunkers, shell holes, and all. The Ranger memorial is on the point of the bluff. This is probably one of the toughest U.S. assaults in history, much less World War 2.
A wonderful meal in a tiny restaurant in Port En Bessin
We had a fine dinner in a small restaurant in Port Bessien. Fish, shrimp, mussels, cooked in a small pot, with Bernaise sauce. It was great. Then back to our B and B. Tomorrow, St. Mere Eglise and the Airborne Museum.
Memorial to sailors lost at sea, Port En Bessin
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.