Friday, June 27, 2014

Normandy: DDay Beaches

I decided to wait until we got home to finish the rest of the posts about our trip. I'd been trying not to be too specific about E being with me for the second half of the trip (I didn't want to advertise that we were both out of the country), but I realized after the day we visited the DDay beaches that I couldn't keep that up. I also needed time to process after we spent the day visiting each of these sites. I couldn't get right into what I was feeling by writing that same night.

But anyway. We're home now, so here are the rest of the things we saw...

I started my second day in Bayeux just as I had started the first. I had breakfast at my two favorite breakfast spots. Yes, two. Breakfast 1 was in a little cafe so I could have some wonderful coffee (I was missing good coffee so bad when we were in Ireland and England) and a little protein. Breakfast 2 was at the patisserie next door. Every day. No shame in my pain au chocolat game.

Bayeux - 25

For our tour of the American landing beaches (we were only touring those, so we didn't see the British or Canadian landing areas), we had a private tour guide and car. This made our experience much more focused. We were able to ask questions and get a lot of personalized information. E's grandfather was at DDay, serving on an LST for the navy. We were able to cater the tour mostly to things that related to his service.

But before we did that, we started at the Airborne museum in St. Mere-Eglise. If you've seen The Longest Day, you know this as the place that a paratrooper, John Steele, got stuck on the spire of the church as he attempted to land. St. Mere-Eglise also has a small museum dedicated to the 82nd and the 101st, the men who liberated the town in the early morning hours of DDay.

The museum was good, but we were antsy to get to the sites related to our family. Most of our day felt rushed, which was too bad. We could have spent a long time at Utah and Omaha Beaches.

St Mere Eglise - 01
St Mere Eglise - 06
Utah Beach - 03
At Utah Beach there's a pretty new memorial to the Navy and their contribution to DDay. Our guide was really knowledgeable about each branch of the American Service and what they'd done. He was able to tell us about how the Navy was particularly successful at Utah, but that they had not been recognized as much as other branches of the military until more recently.
Utah has such a gradual slope that it is shallow for as far as you can see. And it's huge. I was really moved by not just how big each beach was, but how much area the entire invasion took up. We spent most of the day driving between spots and it's hard to really convey in pictures just how many miles this invasion encompassed.
Utah Beach - 04
Utah Beach - 13
Utah Beach - 16
Utah Beach - 25
Utah Beach - 31
Utah Beach - 38
Utah Beach - 44
Utah Beach - 62
After seeing Utah, where E's grandfather landed first (and where the Navy memorial is), we made a stop at Point du Hoc, where the craters from the bombardment are still virtually untouched. Our guide had pictures (that's what he's showing in the one below) of the men who fought at Point du Hoc and eventually found the guns the Germans had moved before the invasion.
Point du Hoc - 08
Point du Hoc - 14
Our last stop was Omaha, specifically the area of Fox Green where our information says E's grandfather's ship came in during the third wave to deliver supplies and take out wounded. This is farther East of Verville, where the worst casualties of Omaha occurred. Our guide was able to give us an idea of exactly what people on his ship would have seen at Omaha. All of this was surreally juxtaposed with the fact that many families were enjoying a swim on the beach the day of our tour. It felt more than a little weird, but it's a sign of how life moves on, I suppose.
Omaha Beach - 01
Omaha Beach - 02
Omaha Beach - 14
Omaha Beach - 16
After Omaha, we visited the American Cemetery on the hill above.
American Cemetery - 04
American Cemetery - 16
American Cemetery - 19
American Cemetery - 20
American Cemetery - 31

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