Tuesday, October 4, 2016

D-Day: June 6, 1944 [A Visit to the Beaches of Normandy]

Today we are taking a bus from the ship docked in Rouen to the Normandy D-Day Invasion area. It was about a two hour drive. When we signed up for our cruise we learned that Viking River Cruises has a recommended reading list which also includes a list of films. This list is related to the area that you will be cruising. So I ended up reading D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose before we left for our cruise. After reading the book I was really excited about this part of our trip and I was really looking forward to our trip today.
We were up at 5:45am and met Deanne and Dave in the dining room for breakfast at 6:30am. After breakfast we stopped by the cabin got our things and then stopped by the reception desk for our cards before heading out to the dock and our buses for the drive to the beaches of Normandy.
Looking toward Juno Beach
At 7:45am the buses left Rouen and we started our journey. During the drive I read a little, journaled and took pictures. I thought we were stopping Caen and at Juno Beach but all we did was drive through Caen and then past Juno Beach. I was a little disappointed about not stopping but it turned out to be okay. Our tour guide gave us a little history about the area and the bus driver drove slowly so we could take a few pictures.
Gold Beach Breakers
Eventually we made our way to Arromanches and Gold Beach. Juno Beach was invaded by Canada and Gold Beach was invaded by the British. In Arromanches we visited a D-Day Museum and watched a short film. After that we had a short period of time to walk around the town and visit the beach.
German Bunker
Then we walked a short distance to a restaurant for lunch. We didn't have a choice in what we ate, they just brought us a meal. It was a quick lunch and then we had a little more time to shop and tour the town. Then we met back at the bus and continued on to the American Cemetery. Before getting to the cemetery we made a quick stop at some German bunkers. These are located west of Arromanches at Longues-sur-Mer. Here there are four 150mm navy guns. From the batteries the soldiers couldn't see the beach but there was a lookout where someone would related coordinates of the enemy to the battery. These were impressive structures and it was obvious why these survived the bombings.

The American Cemetery is located Colleville-sur-Mer, France and sits overlooking Omaha Beach.We arrived at the cemetery and our guide gave us some history and then we had some time to walk amidst the immaculate and orderly grave markers.
Entrance to the American Cemetery
At 2:30pm they asked us to meet at the Spirit of American Youth. They held a small ceremony for us - they first asked any Veterans in the group to step forward, then they played the National Anthem, then they played Taps and finally we had a moment of silence. Being in the cemetery was emotional enough but with the ceremony I don't think there was a dry eye in the area. Once the ceremony was complete we had some free time. Deanne and I went in search of a letterbox. You can read about the letterboxing part of our visit at D-Day Letterboxing. After a little letterboxing we did some more walking around and looking at the markers.

The American Cemetery is a perfect memorial to our Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It is in a beautiful location and is tended with respect and dignity.
Wall of the Missing
There are two buildings at the edge of the parking area. One is the visitor center and the other is restrooms. From the parking area and buildings there are three walkways that lead into the cemetery. There are two outer walkways that lead to the edges of the cemetery. One of which leads to an overlook for Omaha Beach. The center walkway leads into the Memorial. You first enter into The Garden of the Missing. It has a arced wall with a list of soldiers that were missing. They updated the wall at some point and added some bronze rosettes next to names whose remains were later recovered. From the garden you ascend either stairs or a ramp into the the Memorial. There is another arced wall with columns at the front where you enter and on either side are covered areas with maps of the D-Day invasions. In the center of the Memorial is a statue called The Spirit of American Youth. It is positioned to overlook the graves of the soldiers. In front of the Memorial is a reflecting pool and gardens and then the graves are set out in ten sections. There is a center aisle containing a chapel and some statues. What I can't describe here is the emotion and pride that is present all around. I felt that the choice of markers was especially well done. The crosses have softer curves and flares and aren't so rigid. Then there is the diversity where soldiers were honored with stars of David. I was also moved to see markes for unknown soldiers. They had the most wonderful sentiment on them . . .

When we left the cemetery we traveled to Omaha Beach. Here we got to walk on the beach and see a couple of memorials and the flags of the Allies.
D-Day Memorial on Omaha Beach
After reading the D-Day book and seeing images from the invasion it was odd walking along such a beautiful beach and enjoying the most incredible view. It made the information and images I had in my mind all that more emotional. I think we had about a half hour to contemplate things before we had to return to the bus.

I think the day tired us all and the bus ride back to the ship was very quiet. I did get a little journaling done during the drive. Once back at the ship we showered and got ready for dinner. We skipped the happy hour and daily briefing today. Dinner was fantastic and relaxing. After dinner I spent some time in the library editing pictures. I did this because I felt Thomas deserved to have the cabin dark and quiet to get some sleep. But now it is time to get to bed, it has been an emotional and busy day.
The Ally Flags (From Left to Right) - United States, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Great Britain, Canada, Norway and France

No comments :