We woke up this morning to some serious fog. It was so thick we couldn’t see across the courtyard. It was think enough that we could leave until after ten, a couple of hours later than our original schedule. This pushed around our schedule for the day, but we managed to visit several US sites. Today was dedicated to visiting the US side of D-Day.
We started out Sainte-Laurent-sur-Mer where the US airborne dropped early on D-Day. This is where the paratrooper got caught on the church steeple, and in fact, they still have a paratrooper on the roof. I was surprised at how much these small towns absolutely love the US. When you talk to many foreigners, you get the impression that they dislike the US, but here, even sixty plus years later, they absolutely love the US. It was very touching. One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the paratroopers in the stain glass windows. A unique mixture of heaven and hell.
After Sainte-Laurent-sur-Mer we headed to Utah beach. None of the beaches are the same as they were during D-Day. They have been cleaned up and are now used by tourist for sunbathing and swimming. If you are expecting to really get an understanding of the events on D-Day, you will be a bit disappointed in the beaches. We were lucky that we arrived in March before the sunbathers, so we could at least walk along the beaches without stepping on tourists. All of the beaches do have a memorial, some larger than others. Utah Beach is like this. They have several memorials, including an old German bunker that was then taken over by the US and used as a coordination center for the beach landing.
After Utah Beach, we headed in land a bit to Angoville au Plain. This is where having a guide really pays off. Neither I or Amy had ever heard of the place. It turns out to be a small town where a couple of American medics (Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore) landed. They took over the local church and turned it into a hospital. They spend the next several days working on eighty patients, both US, French, and German. They later refused to leave when their units pulled out and were captured. Even today, you can go into the church and see blood stains on the pews where patients were laying. According to Gary, Robert Wright still visits this town on the anniversaries and has really become a part of this community.
Right outside of Angoville au Plain is one of the many US drop zones. There really isn’t much to see at a drop zone. It is simply a big field. However, on D-Day, thousands of troops were dropped out of aircraft at 500 feet over this field. I don’t know what it must have been like, to not know what you are going to land in, yet expected to land, get your act together, and fight… and expect to live.
Next was Pointe Du Hoc. This was where the US Rangers had to scale a cliff to take a German gun site. It turned out that bad intelligence resulted in the over estimation of the strategic value of the site… the guns they were expecting to be there weren’t. However, that doesn’t take away the accomplishment of the Rangers. Point Du Hoc was much larger than I expected, and it was one of the few places that they left mostly alone since D-Day. They have never filled in the bomb craters, so you can get an appreciation of what it must have been like to jump from crater to crater as you crept closer and closer to the bunkers. It is really quite amazing that the Rangers succeeded. After a short introduction by Gary, he said that he’d give us an hour to walk around. I first thought that we’d be done in ten minutes, but after walking around for over an hour we finally got back to the car. There is a lot to see here, and you can walk the trails from bunker to bunker and gun stand to gun stand.
After Pointe Du Hoc we headed to Omaha Beach. At Omaha the Allies had to get up the beach and over the seawall. At the same time, the Germans had set up bunkers to allow for crossfire along the seawall. There is no way to get up and over the seawall without being in range of a German bunker. At Omaha there is a large metal sculpture on the Beach. It is actually a beautiful sculpture, but there is really no way to understand how it represents D-Day.
After Omaha Beach we headed back to the castle for the night. We did go out to a nice dinner in Bayeaux, which was much larger than we expected. The church in Bayeaux is really beautiful. Unfortunately, we were only there at night and weren’t able to go inside to look around.