We stormed Normandy on Day 21 at 1630. Okay, really we took a train to Caen, rented a car, and drove into Northern France, where we discovered two beaches of Normandy. This is the first car we’ve rented on our whole trip, and I’m glad most places we visit have public transportation. Bill said he would tell that tale, so I’ll leave it unsaid for now.
The first beach was Omaha Beach, one of the five points of the invasion on June 6, 1944: D Day. The beach didn’t really have a name in 1944. It was just considered part of Normandy, the northern region of France. Coastline. But when plans were being made for the invasion, they needed code names for each of the beaches. They chose Omaha, Gold, Juno, Utah, and Sword.
On Omaha beach, American forces were charged with the task of securing a beachhead eight kilometers long to link the British forces to the east and the American forces to the west. Then they were to move inland to continue their work. Their plans to pre-bombard the beach to give those coming ashore a measure of safety was a great plan, but it didn’t work very well because of rough seas and lack of visibility. They were able to take out gunmen and close-up fire, but the men still faced larger dangers, like land mines and mortar rounds. We lost 2,000 men that day, just on Omaha Beach alone. Thankfully for the Europeans hoping for liberation, the Germans lost an estimated 4,000 to 9,000.
A temporary cemetery was set up only two days later, and that cemetery later became the Normandy American Cemetery, where all of the dead whose bodies were not sent home are buried today. The land, which was given to the United States by France, now houses the graves of 9,384 men and three women. In addition, 1,557 names of men who are part of the Normandy campaign but were never found or identified are etched on a semi-circular wall partially surrounding the memorial itself.
We walked the grounds, initially wondering why there were no names on the white crosses American military cemeteries are so known for. But when we turned around to head back, there they were. Why were the names on the backs of the crosses? The truth is they weren’t. The names on the crosses, including that of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and several other Medal of Honor recipients, all face the United States.
Our quiet walk ended with witnessing the playing of taps as the American flags were taken off their poles and folded in the traditional way: One fold to represent life. The second to represent our belief in eternal life. The third is in honor and tribute to veterans who have left the ranks, having given at least a portion of their lives in defense of our country and to attain peace. The fourth symbolizes a trust in God’s divine guidance. The fifth is an acknowledgement of our country, right or wrong. The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie, as it is with our hearts we pledge allengiance to the flag. The seventh fold is a tribute to the armed forces protecting our country. The eighth fold is for our mothers and for the one who entered the shadow of death that we might see the light of day. The ninth fold honors womanhood, because their faith, love, loyalty and devotion molds the character of others. The tenth fold is a tribute to our fathers, who give their sons and daughters for the defense of our country. The eleventh fold honors the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The twelfth fold represents eternity and glories God the Father, Soin, and Holy Ghost. The last fold shows the stars on the top, reminding us of our national motto, “In God we Trust.” Then the flag is tucked into a triangle and put away. A flag, folded triangularly, reminds me of my dad, a veteran of World War II, and my brother, a veteran of Vietnam. Their flags, presented to us by the military, will be forever kept in my family.
After a quiet and thoughtful time at the cemetery, we drove on toward a quaint little Bed and Breakfst in Basly, not too far away, over narrow roads in the French countryside. We met our host, Allen, got our keys, and were sent away again to find dinner with the assurance that he would have a tour drawn out for us to take the next day and the warning “not to be lazy” or we wouldn’t see it all in the time we had.
He gave us a specific restaurant to visit for dinner, and I was really glad we followed his recommendation. I think Bill was too, but only because of what we saw AFTER dinner. At La Madison Bleue, I had king crab that turned out to be surprisingly tiny (it is not pictured here), and Bill had another crab whose name we don’t remember, but our server said it would offer more food and be “like a spider.” It is pictured above in front of Bill. Both crabs and two glasses of delicious French wine were only 38 euros. Sweet!
However, you may notice that the French don’t serve seafood like Red Lobster does. First of all, our crabs had everything in them, and I mean everything. If you’ve ever had an uncleaned crab, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I’ll put it this way: If you try to eat the meat from the body itself, you end up with messy brown stuff all over your silverware and napkin. Second of all, nothing about the crab is pre-cracked in any way. We’ve never worked so hard eating seafood in our whole lives! For some of the leg sections, it took both of us and all the tools they gave us to crack through them. Third, you can forget the delicious melted garlic butter in which to dip the meat you’ve worn yourself out procuring. That creamy looking stuff you see in the picture? Mayonnaise. We persevered, and you can see the pile of shells we created above, in front of me. I enjoyed the whole ordeal thoroughly, in spite of all the drawbacks. Bill, on the other hand, wasn’t sure if he was really full or had just lost his appetite in the process.
After dinner, we decided to go for a walk on the beach behind the restaurant. It turned out to be Juno Beach, another beach taken by the allied forces in World War II. Bonus! There were German bunkers everywhere. The soldiers called them pillboxes in all the novels I’ve read about World War II, so I had the impression of a little foxhole. These were not foxholes. They were cement buildings, dug under the sand, with several separate rooms and enough space to hold 20 German soldiers! Here, there was yet another war memorial, this one overseen by the Cross of Lorraine, a Christian cross designed by the French and claimed as the symbol for the French Free Forces led by Charles de Gaulle. You may recognize that name, as the busiest airport in Paris is named after him.
We were both quiet and pensive as we drove back “home.” The loss of life was overwhelming, but so was the sense of victory. The realization of the impossible odds these soldiers faced was daunting, but these impossible odds were overcome because so many regular people from so many places and so many walks of life had gotten together to do something good and lasting. May we as a country and a world continue to do just that. May we never again allow conquest to reign. May we always work together to fight against oppression. May we be the kind of people who work together to bring hope to hopeless situations.