Dispatches from July 24
9 AM: Dozing in the car on the way to Normandy. We stop for a baguette with jambon et beurre, aka ham and butter – probably a new top 10 sandwich for me. So simple, so good.
Noon: We start our D-Day tour at La Cambe cemetery, which contains the bodies of 21,222 German soldiers who fell during 1944. The living maples symbolize peace, while the simple crosses and pinecone wreaths honor the dead and lend a solemn feeling to the space.
It’s painful to think that this soldier gave his life at only eighteen years old.
Next we visit the Pointe du Hoc, where the 2nd Battalion of Rangers scaled the cliffs and dismantled multiple guns to protect other soldiers landing on the beaches. Without their heroism, we might not have been able to take back German-occupied Europe. 225 rangers landed at Pointe du Hoc, and only 90 remained after the fighting.
They’ve left the site mainly untouched. Seeing the height of the cliffs, the German weapons and lookout posts allowing them to scan the entire sea, and the earth scarred everywhere by bomb craters, I can hardly believe the Rangers succeeded in the face of these overwhelming obstacles. Even the preparation for the mission, which occurred on the cliffs on England’s side of the Channel, was so dangerous that several men died during training.
Can you imagine climbing this with a rope, in the rain, in full combat uniform, under fire?
I had never seen a bomb crater before.
This German bunker was hit by a bomb, which shot 60-ton pieces of stone several feet in every direction.
3 PM: At Omaha Beach, where 23,250 American troops faced a bevy of anti-landing defenses. There were mines on rafts floating under the surface of the water, posts with sharp serrated blades that could gut a ship from below, and Belgian gates, or metal pyramids placed on the sand to prevent crafts from landing.
“The battle belonged that morning to the thin, wet line of khaki that dragged itself ashore on the channel coast of France.”
-General Omar N. Bradley, U.S. First Army Commander
The only remaining American “Long Tom” cannon in Normandy
We then went to the deeply moving Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Exhibits and short films tell the personal stories of individuals who fought or supported troops in Normandy. 9,387 American soldiers (and four civilians, including three women) are buried here on what is legally American soil.
The 1944 flags of each country that contributed materials and/or troops to the D-Day invasion
The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves, holding Valor in his right hand.
The tombstones are so precisely placed that, no matter where you stand, they form perfect rows.
6 PM: We make shorter visits to a few more D-Day sites, including Longues-Sur-Mer, the only coastal defense battery to retain its original 150-mm guns, the British artificial port known as Mulberry Harbor, the place where all of the gas was landed to supply the war efforts, and the British cemetery of Bayeux.
9 PM: Napping on the way back to Paris.
12 AM: Finishing up dinner; sauteed sea bream over provencale vegetables.
3 AM: Reading in bed, and thinking about the sacrifice, courage, and strength of those who fought for a freer world.