Friday, November 11, 2011

Normandy, part deux

Our second day in Normandy was devoted to the sites of the American landings on D-Day, and our first stop was the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. The cemetery, in memory of the 1st (5th Corps of the 1st Army) Division, holds 9,387 crosses and Stars of David, perfectly aligned. We first toured the museum, with its poignant yet personalized exhibits, culminating in a reflecting pool meeting the ocean at the horizon. When the Americans landed on that June 6th, they met a well-organized German defense that was aided by a strong coastal current sweeping landing craft off course. I was extremely moved by the exhibits in the museum, and found myself clutching Lauris’s hand that much tighter upon exiting into the cemetery.

We entered through the memorial which stands in the central alley, past the Walls of the Missing that list 1,557 names. A passing tour guide was overheard explaining the rosettes appearing next to some names; these were the bodies that were recovered and identified after the memorial was built. We passed through the colonnade into the center, with a large bronze statue, "Spirit of American Youth” looking out over another reflecting pool, the burial area and chapel.

Even Lauris seemed somber as we walked through rows upon rows of the white marble crosses. Being in the midst of such a visual reminder of the casualties and overlooking the dunes the soldiers had to surmount in the face of fire, I wonder how the landing ever succeeded; the bravery of those souls that rallied and took the beach that day had before been a thing of textbooks, but now I have the admiration and awe of this day in history to carry around with me forever.

We then stopped at the Monument du Débarquement farther west along Omaha Beach; it seemed that every five yards was another monument, another commemorative plaque. We found a bench farther along the beach to eat lunch before taking a walk along the beach.

The cliffs mark the end of Omaha Beach

Lauris slept as we continued west, and slept as we toured Pointe du Hoc. Another point heavily defended by the Germans, from this point the entire area of the American invasion would have been visible. On the morning of June 6th, the Texas fired 600 salvoes of 14-inch shells, and then the 2nd Battalion of Rangers scaled the cliffs at dawn, sustaining heavy losses, 60% of their men. However, the capture of this battery saved countless lives of the troops landing on Omaha Beach, who would have been particularly exposed. The enormous craters and battered blockhouses painted a vivid picture of the intensity of the shelling, and created a stark contrast with the rolling dunes and sea.

A former gun emplacement

It was after a stop at Utah Beach that Lauris woke up, and we hurried to finish the remainder of the drive to Cherbourg-Octeville, on the very tip of the Contentin Peninsula. It boasts the largest artificial harbor in the world of a surface area of about 5.8 square miles. The capture of Cherbourg on June 26th and 27th in 1944 marked a decisive point in the Battle of Normandy, allowing for the landing of equipment and supplies on a much larger scale than had been formerly possible. When the American 7th Corps took Cherbourg, they found the harbor heavily mined, so it was only after the Royal Navy frogmen cleared the mines that the harbor could be rebuilt. The undersea pipeline PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) from the Isle of Wight brought gasoline through Cherbourg to the Allies for the war effort starting August 12th, 1944. We arrived a tad too late to tour the Cité de la Mer museum that houses Le Redoutable, the first French nuclear submarine, but enjoyed a stroll around the quay and through downtown before turning in for the night.

Happy Veteran's Day, and God bless all the men and women serving our country!


  1. Such a great post. Visiting Omaha beach with Nathan was one of my favorite moments in France.

  2. What an appropriate post for today. I think I have an uncle on my Mom's side as well as my Dad's side who survived these battles. I'll have to try to find out which beach they landed on. Thank you.

  3. I can't even begin to imagine what that would have been like. I would probably have crapped my pants.

  4. By the way I'm talking about storming the beaches at Normandy, not visiting the memorial. I wouldn't have crapped my pants for that. Would probably have just been reverent.


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