Day4: D-Day Beaches

Four score minus six years ago
sons and fathers came ashore
on the beaches of Normandy
to liberate a land
occupied by Nazi forces.

This day is spent on hallowed ground of heroes bordering grainy sands of grief, with monuments to glorify their cause.

60th-anniversary monument to “The Brave” on the sands of Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach Monument

Left: Pointe du Hoc Monument; inscription overlay (lower right)
Right: American Cemetery statue “The Spirit of American Youth”
Pointe du Hoc Monument American Cemetery Monument
Another of several monuments along Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach Soldiers Monument

Many who fought here are now interred at the American Cemetery overlooking the wide and deep sands of Omaha Beach. White crosses stand in perfect formation for over 9,000 souls, buried here by families who chose this site rather than repatriation of remains stateside.

Normandy Crosses rows
Normandy Shadows

The cemetery is solemn, beautiful, and educational.

Cemetery Reflecting Pool
D-Day statistics

D-Day statistics and insight from the Visitor’s Center at the American Cemetery

A marble wall (not shown) at the cemetery merits attention, having been engraved with names of more than 1,500 soldiers who could never be found. Scanning the list, one is struck by the plethora of names designated “66th Infantry.”

After-trip research finds over 500 of the never-identified are the result of losing 750-plus from the 66th when their troop ship was torpedoed on Christmas Eve, 1944. It’s a saga seldom told, but covered on the website http://www.leopoldville.org/.

FYI, the U.S. agency in charge of overseas cemeteries and memorials is the American Battle Monuments Commission, whose presence spreads to 16 countries for the care of 55 sites, over two-fifths being in France. (https://www.abmc.gov/)

Pointe du Hoc is a key stop this day.

Destination Pointe du Hoc

Along the way, a water tower glimpsed from the motor coach shares a reminder
that Normandy culture has a Viking history component.

Pointe du Hoc, or Hoc Cliff, rises between the beach landing sites for the U.S. troops that were given monikers Utah and Omaha. Army Rangers scaled and captured these heights in one of the early engagements for this new specialized force.

Battlefield at Pointe du Hoc remains much as it was – dramatic
and bomb-cratered with barbed wire enmeshed for generations.
Pointe du Hoc cliff scaled by Army Rangers

We absorb the precipice, gazing north to the English Channel by which the attackers arrived, east to our other visited landing site, Omaha Beach, and west to Utah Beach, too distant to include on this tour.

Looking west and east from Pointe du Hoc cliff
Utah Beach landing site is west from Pointe du Hoc

“West is a clear view of Utah Beach landing site

Omaha Beach landing site is east from Pointe du Hoc

East toward Omaha Beach landing site

Pointe du Hoc has original coastal defenses attacked by the Allies, one of which is now topped by a viewing stand.

Pointe du Hoc defensive bunker

I should have liked to see more of the D-Day region. The British and Canadian sectors (Gold, Juno, Sword beaches) were covered on an entirely separate motor tour that left the ship at the same time as the tour I chose, preventing the partaking of both.

In the Omaha sector, our tour does not visit local museums. They pop up in small communities flying American flags, in remembrance, next to their own French tricolor.

Normandy church restored from D-Day devistation

French and American flags fly jointly in Normandy coast towns
and on numerous homes along our route

American tank at local Normandy museum

American tank at local Normandy museum

Restored church that was in ruins after D-Day

Restored church that was in ruins after D-Day

The church pictured above has this photo on the side, in memory of D-Day liberation, devastation, and restoration.
Normandy church restored from D-Day devistation

For this Seine river cruise, I was glad to have chosen a specialized version “… for WWII Historians” that included on-ship lectures filling some touring gaps. I suggest to others making a similar excursion that two days at the D-Day beaches would not be too much.

Another suggestion, if going by river as I did, is to take a ship that docks at the end of the Seine in Honfleur or the big-sister port of Le Havre. Either would lessen the travel time by bus and might include more D-Day sites.

This image shows the long bus route through Normandy from Caudebec to the D-Day beaches. A docking position at the mouth of the Seine (top) would lessen the bus route by as much as an hour each way.
Avalon cruise and bus routes

Avalon cruise and bus routes

Beyond the sandy beaches, there is little to resemble the scene that greeted the liberating invaders. One has to imagine how all of this happened, getting help from the thorough visitor center museum at the American Cemetery through detailed displays and documentary footage.

Research via cinema is effective, with prime examples being “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Longest Day,” yet modern Normandy is not a silver-screen image of June 1944. Sometimes eighty percent of a city was destroyed in the fight to liberate it. Long ago, the freed people of Normandy rebuilt their towns, their lives and businesses, their farmlands, pastures, hayfields, and churches.

Normandy needed the change brought by the liberators. Another need is for this place to be treasured for the significance of events, accomplishments, and sacrifices made here. So it is remembered in the minds of current residents as well as this group of visitors from U.S.A., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Engraving at the Normandy American Cemetery
Engraving at American Cemetery Visitor's Center

Ending the day with a measure of levity, the visitor from day 3 has remained in the stateroom, gazing out the window for the return of touring inhabitants. Not too lonely is this creature, for more towel art has dropped in for a visit. With remote control in hand, the two are ready to watch France compete in the World Cup soccer semifinals this night on the in-room television.

American tank at local Normandy museum Restored church that was in ruins after D-Day

Allez Les Bleu!

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