Friday, May 25, 2018

France – Day 13 – 4/10/2018 Normandy

Although I was still in some pain, I slept a bit better during the night. In the morning, I showered, and the hot water helped ease the aches.

We ate breakfast at the hotel. Although in many, the price of breakfast was included in the cost of the room, this one charged for it separately. The selection was the usual array of juice, breads, eggs, yogurt, etc. Oh, and more great coffee.

At 9:00 a.m., Francis Paz of Normandy Guided Tours arrived in his SUV to pick us up for our tour of Normandy. Bob had particularly looked forward to this day. He had read several books in preparation for the trip.

In 2014, Stuart Robertson of Normandy Battle Tours was our tour guide. The day we were with him, he had just received the first copies of his book, D-Day June 6 1944: Following in the Footsteps of Heroes. We bought a signed copy for Bob since he was unable to take the trip with us. Stuart was raised in England. He has two degrees in history, but D-Day and WWII especially fascinated him. So, he moved to Normandy and began guiding tourists through the events of that historic day. He also started his own B&B (booked during the time we were there).

When we began to plan this trip, I contacted Stuart. Because he does the Rick Steves tours, he was completely scheduled for the time we were going to be in France, but he recommended several other tour guides. Francis was the first to respond.

On our first tour in 2014, we were on a large bus, so we could only go where the bus would fit. This time, we were with a guide from the local area, and we saw quite a bit we never would have been able to see on a bus. We also got a different perspective on the events.

Just as the last time, our first stop was at Sainte Mère Église. The story of John Steele was told in the movie The Longest Day. Red Buttons portrayed Steele in the film.

On the night before D-Day (June 5, 1944), American soldiers parachuted into the area of Sainte Mère Église in waves. The town had been attacked from the air, and a stray bomb set fire to a house near the town square. The church bell was rung, and many townspeople formed a bucket brigade, supervised by the Germans. By one a.m., the square was well lit and filled with German soldiers and villagers. Two planeloads of paratroopers were dropped in error directly over the village. They were easy targets, and most were killed. Steele’s parachute caught on the church tower. He was wounded and hung there pretending to be dead for two hours before the Germans took him prisoner. Today, a manikin hangs on the church steeple to represent John Steele.

We followed the chronology of the day from Utah Beach to Omaha Beach. Once again, we relived the events of that fatal day. In the museum, we watched videos describing the day and profiling some of those who took part.

As we walked on the beach, we saw sulkies running on the beach. Bernie loved it.

A special experience for the day was a visit to the village of Angoville-au-Plain. We could not have seen this place four years earlier because the roads were much too narrow for a bus to navigate. There, we heard the story of American medics Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore, who treated the injured from both sides in the small church for over 36 hours as the battle raged on outside. The story was documented in the film Eagles of Mercy.

Inside the church, blood stains remain on the pews as tangible evidence of what happened there. Very moving. A special window in the church honors the events of the day.

Francis had made reservations for lunch at a restaurant owned by his friends, La Sapiniere. The food was good, and the location was charming. Bob had a big bowl of mussels and enjoyed them. Unfortunately, although it had been drizzling and windy all day, by this time, light rain had begun. We could tell this place would be lovely in the summer with sunshine.

Our final stop was the American Cemetery. The rain came down in earnest as we arrived, and the air was cold. We spent a few minutes at the entrance overlooking the graves. Francis told us about the history of the location and the statistics. However, because the grass was wet, and the rain continued, we did not go to see the markers themselves or the chapel at the far end of the graveyard.

Instead, we spent some time in the Visitor’s Center. Like everywhere else, we had to stand in line for an airport-like security check at the entrance.

By the end of the day, we had immersed ourselves in the reality of what happened there nearly seventy-four years ago. It will probably take a long time to fully process everything.

We returned to the hotel at around four in the afternoon to rest and warm up. Then we headed out for dinner at Le Resto du Marche since we had liked it the day before. By this time, it was raining for real.

We enjoyed our meal and then returned to the hotel for the evening.

Next: Return to Paris

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