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Published: July 24th 2012
Sorry it took so long to get out a blog but I sent my computer home for my trip to South Africa and it has been a little busy getting readjusted. But, before I get to that though we have to finish up my trip with my parents around Europe.
After leaving the sauna that was Rome, we headed to Paris where everything is wonderful including the weather. It was a comfortable upper sixties to mid-seventies. We didn't spend much time in Paris, though. After we arrived we only enough time to check into our hotel get some amazingly delicious, albeit over-priced, lunch and head to the train station to leave for Bayeux, France. This was the part of our trip that I was most looking forward to.
While Mom and I were working out the logistics of their time with me in Europe, Dad had few requests, one of which was to visit the D-day beaches in Normandy. As many of you know my Dad is a HUGE history buff. He loves it. And I would say one of his “focus” areas is World War II; part of that
stemming from the fact that his father was in the Army during WWII and part of it because the war had only just ended after he was born. I think it is safe to say that WWII greatly shaped the early years of his life and so it is an interest of his. I originally asked Dad if he would be willing to write a short something to put in my blog but he has one of those things we call a “job” and he has to do this thing we call “work” so he really doesn't have a lot of time. Maybe he will later on, who knows, but I've kept you all waiting long enough.
The trip to Bayeux was so refreshing. It was in the fifties or sixties, green, and our B&B was incredible. Chambres d'Hôtes Clos de Bellefontaine is owned by a nice French family who has renovated half of their house to be just for guests. Bayeux is a fairly small town and we were there in sort of the off season, so the owner picked us up from the train station, drove us around to the main
Irish Pub for the Euro Cup!
Notice the Clemson Flag up top!
parts of town and gave us good suggestions of places to eat. Most of the people who stay there are on D-day tours so they are even prepared to let you know exactly where to go for your tours! It was a really, really nice place and we were the only people there for the night. Unfortunately we were only in Bayeux for one night. My parents agreed that they wished they had more time to spend there. Looking back on it we should have nixed Rome and just gone to France. 😊
The night we got to France was actually the same night as the Euro Cup championship game. Which Spain won, by the way, 4 to 1. 😊 I think we found the only
bar in town showing the game and you could tell because it was full of people even some Spaniards! And would you believe it that the only bar in town would have a Clemson IPTAY flag up on their ceiling? Small world or what?! The flag was clearly a good omen. We ended up towards the back of the bar and made friends with an Australian family traveling around
and Dad found his Australian soul mate; an Aussie man traveling with his daughter who loves
American history. Dad was “rooting” for Italy but I don’t think he really watched the game; he and his new friend talked for like two hours straight. We didn't last too long after the game, though, because we had to be up early for our D-day tour.
Our tour was an all day tour, and by “all day” I mean all
day. The tour met at 8:20 in the morning and we finished around 6:00pm. Well, our tour started at about 8:40 because we got lost. Yep, we were those
people who show up late and make everyone wait for them. In our defense we didn't do it on purpose, we got lost, but still it was an awkward moment walking onto the van late.
The tour was fascinating and we had an amazing tour guide (whose name escapes me). As you may have guessed the owners of the B&B’s name escapes me as well. This is the downfall of waiting too long to write your blog. Sorry folks. And actually this is the part where it would
Dad is looking from the beach to a steep hill. At low tide the beach is only 300 yards wide; soldiers could not have hidden from gunfire.
be handy to have my Dad write an addition to my blog. This is the part where I have to explain the history of what happened and I know I can’t do it justice.
Our first stop wasn't a beach but an open area just off of the shoreline where the Germans had set up guns to defend the beaches. When you see these gun houses you think of how large and powerful they were. Well, the reason that the Allied forces attacked where they did was for a few reasons; one, it was an unexpected area to attack because the Germans expected them to attack from where the channel was the narrowest at the Strait of Dover but instead they chose what is nearly one of the widest parts of the channel. Two, this area had not (yet) been fortified as part of the “Atlantic Wall” or if it had it the defenses in this area weren't as strong because an attack wasn't expected.
Next we headed to Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach was probably the most humbling part of the day. Omaha Beach was the beach with the most
Utah Beach was very wide and flat, Omaha Beach was very narrow and hilly. In reality Omaha is a very flat place while Utah is very hilly!
casualties. Nearly 3000 men lost their lives during its invasion, over hundred men gone in just the first six minutes. It never really sunk in until then. I’m not really sure it still has. For Dad it was a very difficult experience, I think. I spent a lot of time just watching his reactions. My grandfather was a part of Patton’s 3rd
Army. He was stationed in France and landed on Omaha Beach 17 days after the initial attack on June 6th
, 1944. My grandfather didn't like talking about the war, I don’t think my Dad knows a lot about his experience he had while he was in France and I think it’s something he wants to understand. However, I really don’t think it’s something we can understand. It’s a reality that seems unreal. The boys that stormed Omaha Beach were younger than me; they were 17 and 18 year-old boys. Think about what you were doing at the age of 17 or 18.
I asked my Dad about the draft and how it worked. I was so shocked to find that the 18 year-old boys where drafted first; 18 year-old boys were those placed on the
front-lines. Why? They didn't have families and they didn't have the fear. Not unlike teenage boys of today, teenagers back then also had this idea they were invincible, that it wouldn't be them, it would be the guy next to them. They threw themselves into battle with less regard than an older man who had seen the perils of war before or who had a wife and children back home. It has logic, but no reason.
It was an emotionally trying to day traveling from beach to beach and hearing the stories, and visiting the American Memorial Cemetery. As compared to Omaha Beach, the other beaches such as Utah were taken easily and with few casualties.
For me an emotional part of the day was visiting Pointe-du-Hoc. Situated between Utah and Omaha beaches it was believed to be heavily fortified, the Allied forces pretty much just bombed the day-lights out of it before the Rangers scaled the cliffs that surrounded it. As it turned out the Germans had moved the guns nearly a kilometer away and replaced them with decoys and the area was of little threat. Today, nearly sixty years later, the craters
The uneven terrain of Point-du-Hoc
Here you can what appears to be little hills, but are actually a series of mounds and depressions from the bombings at Pointe-du-Hoc
from the bombings are still visible. The entire area is covered in bomb craters some maybe 15 feet deep. Now, if the craters are 15 feet deep today after wind and rain weathering them, they may have been even as deep as 20 to 25 feet when they were made. That’s the type of crater that a meteor 0.5 meters in diameter traveling at 5km/sec would make. That’s a meteor coming from the asteroid belt mind you. (I used this website to figure that out by the way: http://pirlwww.lpl.arizona.edu/~jmelosh/crater_p.cgi
). It’s a rough estimation, but still, I just can’t believe that humans, actual people, we can do that. We can create craters in this earth that will probably be there for hundreds of years. We shouldn't be able to do that; and even though we can, we shouldn't use that technology.
The second half of the day we stopped in the town Ste-Mère-Église for lunch and to visit the WWII museum there. In the town Ste-Mère-Église the thing you will probably notice first is the paratrooper hanging from the church tower with this parachute caught on a steeple. He’s not real, but a memorial to Private
John. M Steele who was part of the 82nd
Airborne who aided in the liberation of Ste-Mère-Église, the first village liberated by the Americans on D-day. He hung there for two hours watching the fight unfold below him until the Germans took him prisoner. He survived the war and was made an honorary citizen of the town.
After our stop in Ste-Mère-Église, our guide took us on a “Band of Brothers” tour focused on the Easy Company and more-so on the efforts of Major Richard Winters who also landed near Ste-Mère-Église by parachute (a little more successfully than Private Steele). Later that same day Winters was instructed to take a troop of men and destroy the German battery that was firing on Utah Beach. Winters had 13 men while the platoon of Germans operating the guns was approximated at 50. Our guide took us to the field where Winter’s attack on the German platoon actually took place. Today it is a pasture filled with dairy cows but then it would be where Winters and his men destroyed every German gun using an attack strategy made up on the fly which is to this day taught
German Battery Field
This what the field looks like today where Winters and his men disarmed the German guns.
at West Point military academy. Unfortunately, only one Medal of Honor is awarded within each division and once it is given no one else can receive one, Major Winters who perhaps deserved the Medal of Honor, never received one.
To tell every detail of the day would result in numerous blog entries, but these are some of the parts that were most memorable for me. Don’t hold me accountable for the historical facts, but I’m pretty sure they are correct. As I had predicted, it was my favorite part of our trip and a place I feel that I could go back to and have a different experience each and every time.
To end this blog, I will leave you with this story. You may remember Opa Karl, my Mom’s host Dad from when she studied for a summer in Kassel, Germany. Opa Karl was forced to fight for the Germans; he too, mostly by way of luck, was able to survive the war. Many years ago, before Grandpa Bob passed away he and my grandmother were able to take a trip to Europe. They visited the beaches of Normandy.
He was able to revisit the very spot where he had landed nearly forty years before and visit the graves of the men he fought with. I don’t know if it was before or after, but sometime during their trip they went to Kassel and visited Oma Ilse and Opa Karl. Here, two men who forty years before had been forced onto opposing sides were able to sit and talk with each other as friends. It’s a testament to how far we are able to go after a conflict. It brings us hope that the wars we fight today won’t be there a few years from now; that we can sit and talk with our opposition and they won’t be an opponent anymore.
"We too, born to freedom and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom . We and all others who believe as deeply as we do would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.": FDR, June 19th, 1941
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can. Yet there is one thing to
be said on the credit side, victory required a mighty manifestation of the most ennobling virtues of man, faith, courage, fortitude, sacrifice." Eisenhower, June 10th, 1946.
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