November 7 – 15, 2009
Part 5: Conflans and Tour of Market
Part 2: D-Day Beaches on Normandy
Part 3: Scenic Coastal Town of Honfleur
Part 4: Rouen and Les Andelys
- Updated Jan. 2, 2010
About 35 trip photos mainly taken by Betty Nolan are posted at www.ritzpix.com in an album entitled “2009 – France” under member name of Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions on how to access. Note: captions were being added to photos in late 2009.
By LEWIS NOLAN
Nov. 9, 2009, Monday – In
We arose with the help of our travel alarm clock about 6:45 a.m. so we could take advantage of an early start on the all-day tour provided by our Viking ship of the Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches.
Betty and Lewis Nolan on Arromanches beach, Normandy near relic of Allied “Mulberry” Harbor
Betty and I had visited much of the area with our teenage son, Casey, about 20 years ago and still felt the wonderfully preserved artifacts and history of the Allied landings against hostile gunfire tell a powerful story about our United States of America and its nobility when facing huge obstacles. We were resolved to make a very long day out of revisiting the beaches as reminders of what a great country we have as Americans.
We boarded one of four
tour buses provided by Viking and were told we wouldn’t return to the ship
until 6:30 p.m., feeling fairly confident that the visit to the
Breakfast on the boat was early and light. Betty – never much of a breakfast fan - limited her meal to cereal with fruit. I went for my customary banana, a small serving of scrambled eggs plus two small pieces of delicious bacon, a slice of turkey and a small glass of tomato juice. Betty snagged a few slices of cheese to snack on later with Melba toast brought from home.
The tour bus drove
us in reasonable comfort for about two hours from the
English gave us overviews and details of the Allied efforts when
We got his business card and plan to give it to our travel agent back in Memphis, Erin Bobbit de Padilla of Gulliver’s Travel, who previously had put us in touch with another local guide of comparable excellence in Paris earlier in 2009.
Thankfully for this excursion to beachside battlefields of Normandy, the weather was generally favorable. Though November, the predicted high temperature was 57 degrees, with cloudy skies and only a 15 per cent chance of rain.
Our first stop was Arromanches, a touristy village overlooking what the Allies
In all, 150,000
Allied troops supported by an enormous number of armored vehicles, trucks,
Jeeps, weapons and supplies needed by fighting units were landed on the five
beaches concentrated along 80 kilometers of the Normandy coastline. Remnants of
an artificial harbor called a “Mulberry” ordered by
Comprised of old
merchant ships chained to huge concrete boxes, the Mulberry formed a breakwater
plus three landing wharves – or floating causeways - that extended nearly a
half-mile out from shore. The
We were told that
the gigantic concrete boxes – some bigger than the largest swimming pools and
nearly 100 feet long - were secretly manufactured in England then temporarily
sunk in the Thames River to keep them out of sight from prying Nazi eyes. The
artificial, prefabricated harbor was the Allies’ answer to the ferocity of
German defenses guarding working seaports in
The Mulberry that
survived off Arromanches was nicknamed “Port Winston”
and played a major role in the advance of Allied troops in
Much of the steel in
the surviving Mulberry was recovered and recycled in metal-hungry
Our tour group of as
many as 146 Seine ship passengers plus crew and staff had an excellent,
provided lunch at the town’s June 6 Restaurant, located a block or two from the
beach. Its name like much else in the area celebrates the bloody defeat of the
German occupying forces in
Our guide, Jacques, told an endearing story about the
enduring love and respect for Americans in
In fact, Jacques related that one time he used his American language
skills to pose as a tourist when stopped for speeding. The policeman bought his
story and politely told him to drive more carefully in the future. In short, it
was heartening to hear that in this isolated spot there are no “Ugly
Americans.” Vive La
Our tour-provided lunch at the June 6 Restaurant was a set menu that included a salad fairly typical for France and unlike those served at home. We were each served a plate of two-or-three tablespoons of marinated cucumbers, a dab of cut lettuce, scoop of shredded turnips, sliced tomatoes with salad dressing and chopped, pickled beets that were grown locally. I thought the German-style cucumbers were pretty good, but passed on the rest of the “salad.” Betty and I both passed on big bowls of fresh, sliced French bread due to our low-carb diets. But we did enjoy the main dish of thick slices of seasoned pork roast. Unlike others in our tour group, we also passed on very large servings of French fries and ate only a few of the served fresh, green beans. Betty enjoyed the included dessert of chocolate mousse served with hazelnuts. We both enjoyed minimal pours from carafes of complimentary red and white wines and glasses of ice water.
After lunch, we re-boarded the bus and were driven to the magnificent American Cemetery and Memorial at nearby Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
While we had been at the cemetery nearly two decades ago . I had found it to be an emotionally moving experience to take in the extent of the suffering by Americans and the grandness of the tribute to the fallen. On this visit, I was once again mightily impressed by the beauty and tastefulness of the final resting place of nearly 10,000 American soldiers who gave up their lives in the epochal fight to liberate France and drive into Nazi Germany.
Our tour didn’t give us enough time to again walk down the twisted path
on a steep bluff from the cemetery overlook to the 200-yard-wide beach below
(width subject to huge tides of as much as 25 feet between low and high peaks).
During the long-ago invasion, witnesses said there was so much blood that it
stained the ocean water red. In all, we were told, 10,000 American soldiers
were killed during the assault on the beachheads and following actions in
There were nearly 2,000 American bodies that were never recovered. They evidently were either blown to pieces or washed out to sea by the waves and tides.
Land for the beautiful, coastal cemetery was donated in perpetuity at
no charge by
Nearby cemeteries include one at Saint-James holding 4,410 American graves; one at Beny-sur Reviers holding 2,049 Canadian graves and a Cintheauz holding 2,958 Canadian graves; at Urville-LaGanaggerie holding 616 Polish graves; at Les Gateys French Necropolis holding 19 graves (the 70 other Free French bodies were claimed by families; at La Cambe holding 21,222 German graves, Huisnes-sur-Mer holding 11,956 German graves, at Orglandes, 11,169 graves, and St.-Desir-de-Liseaux, 3,735 graves; and 16 British cemeteries in the area holding a total of 19,187 graves, with the largest at Bayeaux, whose 4,648 graves are augmented with the names of 1,801 soldiers missing in action inscribed on a Memorial, with more than 4,000 of the graves holding soldiers from Commonwealth and other countries.
Battlefield brochures note that there were 49 sets of brothers buried
We did not visit the cemeteries for the fallen of the other nations
with forces at the invasion of
Our guide, Jacques, told us that each of the 9.238 marble crosses and 149 Star of David tombstones were made of the finest, white Lasa marble and cost about $1,000 each (compared to an expected cost of $4,000 today). There were many more Jewish soldiers killed, but most of their bodies were shipped home at family request to be buried in cemeteries devoted to that faith.
The uniform, inscribed lettering is simple, giving name, rank, state of origin and military unit. A small letter “O” at the foot of the stone alongside a serial number indicates officer rank. The great preponderance of gravestones noting origin from Eastern states of the U.S., was due to custom of the time. Our guide said that most U.S. military personnel from the East fought in Europe; those from Western states were mainly used in the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
In less than one week, the Allied invading forces linked the different
beachheads and pressed inland. Over the next three months, the Allies battled
German troops throughout
In reading about Ike and his general officers’ leadership in World War II, I was struck at how they unfailingly demanded that troops and attack, with no leeway for R&R and not much downtime for wounds. It may be no accident that Napoleon’s brilliance a century and a half earlier grew out of his wartime philosophy of “Audace, Audace, Tujours Audace,”
Carefully trimmed trees, shrubs and roses in well-tended gardens
highlight the beauty of the
We re-boarded the bus and drove to the nearby Pointe du Hoc Monument, a
granite obelisk that tops a German bunker 100 feet up on a cliff about eight
miles to the west of the Cemetery. It honors soldiers of the 2nd
Ranger Battalion who bravely scaled the cliff on ropes to disable huge German cannons
Several concrete bunkers where German troops lived and fought remain, mainly broken into big slabs of reinforced concrete once hit by bombs and naval gunfire. Craters big enough to bury trucks surround the fighting areas. It’s not hard to imagine the sound and fury of gunfire and shouted orders from desperate men who died in this great struggle more than 60 years ago.
We and others dozed during the long bus ride back to the Viking tour
boat. We were greeted with a cocktail reception, where I indulged in two
bottles of low-alcohol, German beer. Each contained only 0.3 grams of alcohol
carbohydrates, compared to my
At dinner we again joined two residents of Monroe Township, New Jersey
whom we had met earlier. They are Paul Granett, (a
retired IBEW union electrician who worked for decades on big jobs in
Also at our table were a tourist from
Betty and I enjoyed the served seafood bisque, broiled and seasoned prawns and thin slices of roast beef served in yet another delicious sauce nicoise. We also were served tiny bundles of undercooked green beans and French crepes with berry jam.