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Honoring Veterans in Normandy

November 14, 2010

No mission too difficult; No sacrifice too great; Duty first. 6 June 1944

The recent celebration of Veterans Day in the U.S. reminded the Experienced Travellers of their conquest of Normandy and Omaha Beach. 

Our first skirmish was the two-hour drive in the rain after a restless overnight flight.  Nurse was all for comfort, and deftly slipped out of her bra in the front seat of our tiny Renault, under the delighted gaze of a passing truck driver.  There are no candid photos of this skillful feat, unless you count the one that the French Traffic Surveillance camera took of my speedy vehicle.  

We used Bayeux as our base camp for exploring the area.  We had just one day to see the beaches, so we concentrated on Omaha Beach, where American forces landed during the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France during WWII.   

Taking Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944. (Photo by Robert Sargent, Wikipedia Commons)

Omaha Beach today. Imagine thousands of GIs disembarking after a fantastic voyage across the Channel.

The wide, sweeping beach is tranquil, but it’s role in the liberation of France is evident everywhere.  There are still hulks of troop transport carriers and weapons scattered around the area. 

Nurse inspects the German gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer.

 The German coastal defenses were geared toward seaborne assult.  After a close inspection of this gun battery,  Nurse decided that an outdoor terrace offered a superior vantage point for planning an invasion of the local moules-frites vendors.

ETs contemplate their invasion of Norman cuisine

 As a dutiful second-in-command, I undertook reconnaissance to locate a sunny table with a view.  I can imagine what one of those soldiers would have given for my cafe creme.  Restored and refreshed, we revved up the Renault.  After a series of scenic wrong turns and dead ends, we arrived at the American Cemetery.

American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer holds over 9,000 soldiers

France granted this land to the US  in perpetuity.  White Crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of the fallen on this bluff overlooking the beach where they died.  The visitor’s center is very informative with excellent displays.  If we had it to do again, we would start here, then see the beach.  

The German Cemetery in La Cambe

We made an unplanned stop at the German cemetery which is maintained by the German War Graves Commision solely through donations.  Over 21,ooo soldiers are buried here, with 300 interred in the mass grave.  The German 352nd Infantry Division was made up of inexperienced recruits.  The American 29th Infantry Division was untested in these conditions.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

A more peaceful landing unless you're a fish

Our Renault troop transport brought us to Grandcamp Maisy in search of rations and an appetite for moules.  We found the only restaurant on the harbor that wasn’t serving fish and had to settle for quiche.  ETs are always prepared for privations, so they settled in and enjoyed their lunch. 

A canine companion barking orders - "eat your quiche and forget about moules"

It was an evocative day of sightseeing.  We headed back to Bayeux in a cool drizzle, pondering the soldiers of all nations who fought and fell on D-Day, and those who risk their lives today.

Les Braves - the French government commissioned this sculpture to honor the Americans who liberated France. They symbolize the Wings of Hope, Rise of Freedom and Wings of Fraternity.

We’ll tell you more about Bayeux and Normandy in our next post.  And yes, Readership,  there will be food pictures.

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