D-Day was the beginning of a hard deliverance for the French people. We, the Allies, landed on the beaches of northern Normandy, on June 6, 1944. So, June 6, 2014, some 32 years after Penny and I were married, and 70 years after the combined weight of the U.S., Canadian, Free French, British and Anzac forces were first brought to bear on the German/Vichy French Army, was a very big deal.
I had no concrete plan to join in the observance, other than to get on a train from Rouen to Caen, thence to Bayeux, then to St. Mere Eglise, or as close as I could to Utah Beach, or Omaha Beach. I brought money to kick in for a taxi, in any case.
Before hopping the train to Caen, I sauntered around Rouen’s Palais de Justice for a few morning stretches. By ANY stretch, this thing is huge.
It is still used for legal matters, in the Department de Seine-Maritime. Having looked at my watch, though, I knew it was train time.
Along the way to Caen, we passed the lovely little town of Lisieux. The river, of course, is the Seine.
I met a Seattle-based couple who are researching for a book the wife is writing on the experiences of living World War II veterans. They were headed to Omaha Beach. I had decided to go to Utah Beach, as that would give me the best chance to get to St. Mere Eglise, afterward.
We arrived in Caen, and found this scene.
The French Army was on full alert, as so many dignitaries were out and about, for the commemoration. We were not bothered at all, and got on a train that would get us to Bayeux. A young lady named Anne, an American, met us on board the train. Once she heard I was headed for Utah Beach, she became my friend for the day, and we got along most agreeably. She gave me a few pointers on photography, so my shots ended up clearer than they had been earlier. She turned out to be embedded in a military unit, elsewhere in Europe.
This is near the train station at Bayeux, where we got off. Bayeux is also famous for the tapestry that shows William the Conqueror, but today was not to be a day for examining that great work of art.
Anne and I split a taxi fare to Utah Beach. Here are some things we saw, en route. Below, is Carentan.
Next, being blocked from going to St. Mere Eglise, we went to St. Marie de Mont. Here a few shots of that nice little town, before we arrived at Utah Beach. I will show you other shots that I took here, on our return trip to Carentan, after posting the Utah Beach photos.
First, though, here is the approach to St. Marie de Mont, from the south.
Next, is the center of town.
Finally, the 101st Airborne, in loose parade mode.
We got to Utah Beach, in plenty of time. This is just west of the Utah Beach Visitors Center.
The tide was, of course, out, so we had a good scene for the memorial activity.
I used the occasion to honour a Prescott resident who was a commander in the U. S. Army, on that fateful day. He is still very much alive, and I’m told he was delighted to see this photograph.
We also climbed the dunes, to see what the Allies were up against.
I ended up in a few scenes. This is the second time in my life that I’ve been this close to a tank. The first time was in Basic Training, in 1969.
Here is a reminder that “Freedom isn’t free.”
This was a German bunker, which the Allies had to approach, and overcome.
Here are some reminders of the resilience of sand dunes.
Anne was watching the gathered force.
I got in the middle of it all, just one more time.
Then, we headed up for lunch, to call a taxi to Carentan, and to thank the motorcyclists of Europe, for all they do to keep the memory alive.
After twenty minutes or so, a taxi came to take us to Carentan, and our train back to the east of Normandy. Here a couple of scenes from St. Marie de Mont, on the return trip. Note that the tour bus ahead of us is from Czech Republic. They were among the first to suffer Hitler’s rage.
Above is one of the ways the French remind us that this was no invented story, but a true, worldwide horror. No amount of revisonism or faded memory can change what actually happened.
NEXT: Rouen’s Vieux Marche, and Jeanne d’Arc’s legacy