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.
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.
The cemetery is solemn, beautiful, and educational.
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.
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.
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.
Pointe du Hoc has original coastal defenses attacked by the Allies, one of which is now topped by a viewing stand.
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.
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.
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.
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.