Thursday, October 13, 2016

Europe Trip: Day sixteen, part two- D-Day Beaches

After leaving Mont St. Michel we drove north to Sainte-Mere-Eglise. 
Along the way my mom was again charged with taking photos. 
She took this picture of the camper in front of us after I started laughing at it and asked her if she could see that the back looked like an old lady in glasses and shower cap.

The French countryside is just so beautiful. 

We didn't have as much time as we would have liked to spend in in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and we couldn't get the parking meter to work so I was really paranoid about just running over to the church for some pictures. I wish we would have explored it more but, like I said I was really worried about getting in trouble for not paying the parking. 
We walked over to the church. The town church is well known because on D-Day paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment had his parachute caught on the spire of the church. 
The town was on fire and paratroopers were being shot as they descended into the town. 
John Steele was shot through the foot. He hung there for two hours pretending to be dead as he could only observe the fighting below him. 
He was then taken prisoner by the Germans. 
He later escaped the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops of the 3rd battalion attacked the village. This was the first French town to be liberated. This was shown in the movie The Longest Day
Now there is a uniformed mannequin that hangs from a parachute on the steeple to honor Steele and the liberation of the town. John Steele regularly visited the town and church before his death in 1969.

There was a little food truck right by the church so my mom went to it to get us some cheeseburgers to eat on our drive to our next location while I ran to the car to make sure I hadn't been ticketed. 
I waited in the car for her and when she got in she handed me my box with my cheeseburger. 
Thankfully I noticed something on the side of it before I bit into it and I took off the top bun. 
I almost threw up and tossed the box over to my mom saying, "Oh man. I can't eat that!"
She looked inside to see why. 
I did not get a picture of them but this is basically what it looked like...

She said she would go return them. At first I didn't want her to because I didn't want to be a complaining tourist. But she convinced me that she could just go take them back. 
She said the woman was really nice about it and said "Oh! I forgot you English like them well cooked." She was really kind about it and gave us some hot dogs instead. 
Unfortunately they were pretty gross too... but we ate most of them anyway. 
Luckily we also had some Zone bars and Diet Coke to enjoy.

Our next stop was Utah Beach. The drive to the beach was beautiful. We kept noticing bikes everywhere tied to poles. They were all beautiful pastel colors and had baskets and flowers. We later learned they are all over to remember the French resistance that biked all over the country. 
I wish I had pictures of them but I don't.

I loved this quote on the statue at Utah Beach...

It was a beautiful place with a very special spirit to it. 
You couldn't help but think of those that died here, sacrificing themselves to try to help others. 

It was incredibly windy so we were getting sand everywhere... later I had to dig it out of my pockets of my coat!
I gathered a few seashells from the beach and we walked along it for a few minutes. 

There were so many monuments around the entire place honoring so many that gave all.

My mom bought a little glass bottle in the gift shop that said Utah Beach on it and was able to go out and put some sand in it. I kind of wish I had done that too.
I will never forget what it felt like to stand on this beach. 

We bought some Magnum ice cream bars and got back in the car, eating them while we drove to our next stop. 

Pointe Du Hoc: 

German forces occupied Pointe du Hoc and made it into a stronghold, protecting a battery of heavy guns. On June 6, 1944, in the morning, US Army Rangers scaled 90 foot cliffs to capture it. 
Their actions helped to establish the Allied foothold in France and begin the liberation of Europe.

"And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe." - President Reagan

Pointe du Hoc was full of huge craters from the battles fought here. It also still had the German bunkers which you could go inside.

The sad thing about this was they reeked of urine. 

The Pointe du Hoc monument: 

After this we drove to Omaha Beach. 

We walked along the beach for a while. 
Again, it was still so windy that we had to be careful from all the sand that was flying into our faces and eyes. 

After we left Omaha Beach we went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. 
We went into the visitor's center first. 

This place was amazing. 
They had artifacts and pictures. They had movies. Most importantly they told the stories of the people. 
I was tearing up most of the time we were in here, over and over. 

"Technician 5th Grade John Pinder received the Medal of Honor for his courage on D-Day. Though gravely wounded as he exited his landing craft on Omaha Beach, Pinder struggled through the water to safely deliver the vital radio he carried. Refusing medical attention, he returned to the surf three times to salvage additional communications equipment before he was killed by enemy fire."

"In the early hours of June 6, Privates John Steele and Ken Russell dangled helplessly from their parachutes, which had snagged on the village church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Sergeant John Ray landed safely in the square below but was mortally wounded by an enemy soldier, who then took aim at Steele and Russel. Despite his injuries, Ray fought back, killing the enemy and saving his comrades' lives.

"Within a few days, Mrs. Niland received three heartbreaking telegrams. Robert had died in Normandy on D-Day. His brother Preston was killed on June 7 near Utah Beach. A third brother Eddie, was reported missing in the Pacific, but returned home after being rescued from a POW camp. the Army sent Fritz, the fourth son, back to the US. The Niland story was the basis for the film Saving Private Ryan."

Both 2nd LT Preston Niland and SGT Robert Niland are buried in the cemetery there. 

There were hundreds of stories like these all over the visitor's center. It was amazing. 
One of the most poignant moments for me was as we were going toward the exit. You walk through a Hallway of Names. As you walk down the hallway the names of those buried in the cemetery are being read aloud. It was so touching and heartbreaking.

We exited the center onto a path that led to the other memorials and the cemetery itself.

The Memorial: 

The memorial has a 22 foot statue called "The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves".

The Garden of the Missing has engraved tablets that honor the missing in action who gave their lives in this region. A bronze rosette beside a name shows that the remains were later recovered, identified, and buried. 

As we were walking toward the cemetery, they were taking down the flag. 
It was really cool to be able to stop and honor it in this special place. 

The cemetery was beautiful. 

The feeling here was one of gratitude. It was peaceful and somber. 
It was something I don't think either of us will ever forget and we will be forever grateful we got to experience it. 


The Kings said...

Oh man...seeing those photos was so touching. I got chills and even tears as I remembered through pictures what we saw and experienced there that day. I am so grateful we got the opportunity to go there!

cheryl said...

Yep. That is how I felt writing it up and preparing it. It is an amazing memory. Thanks for going there with me!