Sunday, July 3, 2011

A day at the beach(es)

About 3 o'clock this morning I woke myself up with a coughing fit which caused me to get up and get a drink of water.  I happened to peer through the drawn curtains and was surprised with a sky full of stars.  We are so far away from light pollution out here that you see all of the stars and the Milky Way.  I know that when we go camping you can see a sky full of stars, but we've usually been in a forest and all you can see is a little wedge of sky - straight up.  Or a portion of the sky to the horizon if there is a break in the trees.  Here I could see to the horizon in a full 180 degrees or so.  I called to Bob to look, but he was a little too out of it to truly appreciate it.  It was so clear, he was able to see the Milky Way without his glasses!
We headed out to the D-Day beaches about 10 o'clock.  It only took about 40 minutes to get there.  We started at Arromanches where the British built the mulberry bridges to allow for massive amounts of support to get on shore after the initial D-Day invasions.  There is a fairly new 360 degree theatre there where they show a visual presentation.  The  presentation has no dialog and doesn't need any.  It showed the area both then and now to send the message that the freedom that is enjoyed now would not be possible without the sacrifice of those who gave their lives on June 6th, 1944 and for weeks afterward.
When we arrived, a bicycle touring group was there ahead of us all wearing yellow, blue and red jerseys that read 'Ride 2 Recovery".  They were American and crowded into the theater at the same showing that we attended.  As the group mingled around us, we noticed the age range was wide and that several of them had prosthetic lower limbs.  Some were riding on three wheeled bicycles where they pedaled with their arms.  After the show, I asked one of them what their group was about.  Ride 2 Recovery is a group that supports wounded veterans through these organized bicycle trips.  This group was bicycling the coast of Normandy with veterans of the Gulf War, Afghanistan and even Viet Nam.  They were also going to be bicycling the last 20 miles of the Tour de France into Paris.  This was day 1 of a 7 day trip and some of them were already talking about stiffening up when they got off of their bikes to go into the theater, but they all managed to get back on their bikes and head out at the same time as about 8 antique cars went by in the opposite direction.  It was a busy spot to be!  Here is a link for more info on Ride 2 Recovery.
Next we walked down the hill into Arromanches itself and visited one of the debarkation museums.  Each beach town seems to have one of its own.  This one was probably the British version since the mulberry bridges were one of their major contributions to the invasion.  The film presentation was not as well done as the first one, but they had some neat  displays with uniforms, letters and other WWII paraphernalia.  We then grabbed a sandwich and sat along the sea wall and had lunch.  
Other odd things seen
      Michael Jackson...really?
How do you get your car out of this if you get sandwiched in?
Afterwards, we went up to the American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer.  This is a beautiful memorial.  They have a museum of sorts that shows a timeline of the war and also provided some insight into the personal side of the war.  They show a film that talks about three of the soldiers that lost their lives in the Normandy invasion.  It was very moving as you learned about them as people.  One of the soldiers was a doctor in his late 20's early 30's.  He was placed in a hospital unit well behind the lines, but asked for a transfer to the front.  His son told the story in the film.  His father didn't like his original posting but loved being at the front and being able to help others.  He was killed when he left a safe area and rescued a wounded soldier.  The soldier made it home but he didn't.  The poignant part of the story was that he had sent a friend a letter saying that he had asked to be transferred, but asked his friend to not tell his wife.  After he was killed, the friend told the wife and she was very angry for a very long time.  All three stories left you feeling like you knew these men.  It was hard to keep dry-eyed.
Then we walked out into the cemetery and the bright sun.  As you walk further in the immensity of the place hits you.  I said to Hayley that I couldn't really figure out if the stories of the three soldiers had more of an impact than the 9,000 + white crosses that spread out ahead of us.  Then it hit me that what I was looking at was 9,000 + individual stories.  I'll leave it at that and let the pictures talk.

It was getting towards closing and the kids wanted to walk on the beach.  Since they close the gates to the parking lot at the cemetery and it was close to closing, we sent them down to the beach and we went back to the car and drove up the coast to meet up with them.  Once reunited we went to our final stop which was Pointe du Hoc.  This is where the American Rangers had to scale the cliffs and take out the German Battery.  The top of the cliff had been hammered and there are still many huge craters and huge shattered concrete slabs flung about.  It looks like an alien landscape.  Bob and I were there in 2000 with my father and he said that when he had been there years ago, it was all covered with scrub.  Now 11 years later there is at least 1.5 times more area that has been cleaned up.  There are many imploded bunkers that can be explored now.
One thing that I learned from this visit is that the French themselves come to honor the soldiers that laid down their lives on their behalf.  Over 1/2 of the people at thees sites were French.  I was pleasantly surprised to see this.  
It has pushing 7p when he left the last beach site and drove to Bayeux for dinner.  As luck would have it, there was a large medieval festival in town.  People walking about i period costume and booths selling things that were meant to look authentic.  The bad news was that I left the camera in the car.  Afterwards we drove back home and began to pack our bags back up for our departure in the morning. 

Step count for the day:  18,855.  


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