Thursday, July 30, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 14. Bitter sweet day in Normandie

We had a great pizza dinner last night, and then watched The Fantastic 4 (in French) in our big, comfortable hotel room before going to sleep. Waking up was a different matter, and the boys tried every trick in the book to snatch another 5 minutes of sleep. Eventually they got up, we had petit dejuner, and we were off!

The day was absolutely glorious, and we had but a short way to go to our first stop, Longues du Mer, where we had a look of the channel, the faint outline of England in the distance, and a battery of four cannons ready to bombard anything afloat. The emplacements were built of reinforced concrete, 3 ft thick, so they were indeed a hard nut to crack.

From there we went to Omaha Beach, where the first thing we did was pay our respects to the soldiers fallen in D-Day. The American cemetery alone has 10,000 tombs, marked by either white marble crosses or Stars of David. Many bear the name of the soldier, the company with which he served, and the state from which he came, but there were quite a few that simply said “Here rests a comrade in arms, his name known only to God”. The crosses extend for acres, and give you a real sense of the dire price the Americans paid to land in Normandie (2,500 perished taking Omaha Beach, and the rest of the casualties were largely among the brave assault troops that parachuted in the few hours prior to the landing to cut out communication lines, destroy bridges, and confront the enemy in the batteries).

The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, and we eventually got down there. It is a beautiful beach, bathed in sun, but you get the feeling of being in hallowed ground, remembering the events of June 6, 1944.
By the time we were back on the car we were all hungry, so I was on the lookout for a good place to have a late lunch. Fortunately I spotted a gentleman with a grill at the side of the road, who was selling grilled sausages out of his yard. He had a small table and four seats, so we waited comfortably for our sausages and fresh French fries to cook, and we had a marvelous lunch under the Normandie sun (as it turns out, it rains a lot in this part of France, so we really lucked out with the beautiful day).

Our last stop was in Pointe du Hoc, a point in the line of cliffs that separates Omaha Beach from Utah Beach. The enemy had another battery emplacement atop this cliff, so the allies had determined that it had to be taken if the invasion was to succeed. First it was the target of heavy bombing, and as you walk to the point you do so many bomb craters a good 20 ft wide and 10 ft deep. But the bunkers were protected by thick slabs of reinforced concrete, and apparently were not taken out of commission, so the Army Rangers (the elite assault force of the army, similar to the Navy Seals) scaled the cliffs, and engaged in furious battle with the German troops. The battle extended for more than a day, and by the end of it not even half of the 225 Rangers were alive. The French people gave the land of Pointe du Hoc to the United States, to commemorate the ground so dearly paid for by the Rangers, so a memorial site could be built in their memory.

By the time we left Pointe du Hoc it was 3:30 pm, and we had to turn east to get home. It was an easy ride, always in Freeway A-13, and by 7 pm we were entering Triel-Sur-Seine, which is the small town where Geraldine and her men have their happy home. We had a good family dinner, laughing a lot with the kids, and I got to say goodbye to all. Maya and I will get together in a week in Lisbon, but tomorrow she will explore Paris on her own while I fly to Ponta Delgada, in the island of Sao Miguel, in the Azores. I don’t know when I will see again Geraldine and her lovely family, but we have tentatively agreed that “next time” will be somewhere in Mexico

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