Its hard to imagine that weve lived in Europe
for close to two years and hadnt 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. Its 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
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. Its
a small place (we walked from one end to the other in 30 minutes)
and its 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
See all my pictures of
See a video from Normandy