An American Couple in Delft
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Normandy

It’s hard to imagine that we’ve lived in Europe for close to two years and hadn’t yet been to Normandy, France, the site of the D-Day landings in northwestern France in 1944. Lynn had to go to France for business on a Tuesday so we rectified that situation by spending the weekend in Bayeux, the first town liberated on D-Day. Bayeux is pronounced almost like bayou in Louisiana except that the accent is on the second syllable.

Somehow I had the thought before we took this tour that we would be going to a place, i.e. a single place. I thought wrong. It’s not any more a single place than the Jersey shore is a single place. The landings took place over an area that was about 20 miles wide with the Americans landing at Omaha Beach and also Utah Beach. The British, Canadians, French, and Dutch landed on both sides of Omaha Beach at Sword, Gold, Juno Beaches. Omaha Beach itself is about four miles wide.

The tour guide, an extremely knowledgeable young man, went on at length about all the tactical military decisions. I confess that I have little knowledge of that subject and less interest, so much of what he said went over my head. However, I did begin to grasp what the scene was like at this place on that day. It boggles the mind. There were 34,000 Americans who landed that day at Omaha Beach. More than 1,500 died before they left the beach and many more died shortly thereafter. The air was filled with bombs, gunfire, and deafening noise. The ground was littered with burning debris and humans, dead and wounded. More than 60 years later, there are signs welcoming back their liberators. Apparently 1944 was a time when Americans were welcome as liberators by people who wanted liberating. In 1944, we were the good guys.

The area above the cliffs and away from the beach is rural and extremely quiet. Perhaps the only time I ever experienced this kind of quiet outdoors was in very rural northern Arizona, several miles north of the Grand Canyon. We could hear voices and a dog that appeared to be coming from a house about a half mile away. Other than that, it was almost total silence. This stood in stark contrast to the image of what it must have been like on June 6, 1944.

We paid a visit to the American cemetery built atop the cliffs at Omaha Beach. There are more than 9,300 graves there, 307 of them unknown. There are three Medal Honor winners buried there, one being the oldest man in the D-Day invasion, Brig. Gen Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. who died in Normandy of a heart attack about five weeks after the landing. Upon entering the cemetery, we noticed that the names on the headstones all faced away from us and it seemed odd. We were told that all the graves face west so that those buried there are forever looking toward home.

Standing there in that cemetery is a very humbling experience, as it is in Margraten in the Netherlands, thinking of the massive numbers of people who gave their lives in that war. While at the entrance to the cemetery, a carillon played The Stars and Stripes Forever. It sounded at least a little bit different that it does on Independence Day.

Bayeux is the first town that was liberated. It’s a small place (we walked from one end to the other in 30 minutes) and it’s both old and new. There was new housing that we saw in some outlying areas but the middle of town has buildings that are a thousand years old. A small river runs through the town and much of the growth of the town centered on the river. In the early days, the farms were there and later, mills were built because of the proximity to water.

Bayeux is about a two hour train ride from Paris. If you ever find yourself in Paris, a visit to Omaha Beach is worth the trip.

See all my pictures of Normandy.

See a video from Normandy

 

2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008