Rememberance of D-Day sixty five years later.

Remembering and honoring an event such as D-Day is a much larger task than I had ever imagined.

It has been about a week now since my return from the Normandy beaches with a group of UVA Alumni travelers (with Cavalier Travels) where so many American, British, Australian, Polish and even French troops had landed on June 6, 1944 and I have a very profound new appreciation for their service and sacrifices.

A small German bunker at Utah Beach

A small German bunker at Utah Beach

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in history, consisting of an armada of ships numbering over 5,000 and a total of over 175,000 troops who stormed Omaha, Utah, Sword and Juno beaches covering a 50-mile long stretch of the Normandy coastline.  These ships approached these shores on the morning of June 6th in miserable conditions, with rain, wind, and low visibility and were asked to do the seemingly impossible – to take these beaches back from the Germans and initiate the liberation of mainland Europe.  As their amphibious barges dropped their gates and the men jumped into the murky Channel waters, they were immediately met with German gunfire.   Losses began to accrue immediately and continue at an alarming rate throughout the assault.

To walk these beaches in similar conditions to the day of their landing (cloudy and rain) really helped us all envision what these soldiers had gone through.  Utah beach was calm, almost silent as I walked along the sandy shoreline, imagining what it must have been like.  Omaha was different, but only because of the driving rain and high tide.  The new memorial sculpture jutted through the breaking waves almost seemed to be reaching out to the boys who had fallen on “that” beach on “that” day.  Sword and Juno also invoked the same kinds of thoughts of the great losses and the valiant efforts of so many.

Rommell's headquarters at La Roche Guyon

Rommell's headquarters at La Roche Guyon

We began in magnificent Paris, visiting many historical spots long the way, learning about occupied Paris and the French Resistance during occupation.   We then drove from Paris to Normandy, stopping along the way to Visit La Roche Guyon where Rommell set up his Atlantic Wall headquarters and a brief stop at Giverny, the home of Claude Monet for a tour of his home and colorful gardens. Once in Normandy,  we visited the small town of St. Mere Eglise where the predawn 505th Airborne parachutists had dropped into the awaiting hands of German soldiers, many being killed before touching the ground.  Others drowning in the nearby marshes due to a missed drop point.  We walked across the embattled stretch of the Pegasus Bridge, a key target that the Allies needed to secure before the first men hit the nearby beaches that morning.  We drove across terrain riddled with hedge groves thick enough to stop Sherman tanks in their tracks and where German gunneries had used these thick natural boundaries as camouflaged gun sites.

Mr. Hausermann speaks to us at his Chateaux in Vierville-sur-Mer

Mr. Hausermann speaks to us at his Chateaux in Vierville-sur-Mer

But one of the most rewarding and thought provoking experience we experienced on this tour was our lunch invitation to the Chateaux of Mr. and Mrs. Hausermann in Vierville-Sur-Mer.  Mr. Hausermann had lived in this chateaux during the German occupation and shared with us his memories of those days while offering a lunch only to be found in the French countryside.  His stories helped us all understand that the young German soldiers were just as anxious and fearful of their fate as the Allied armies.  His memories truly helped us all realize that there really are no winners when it comes to wars of this scale.

Sixty-five years have passed but walking the American, British and German cemeteries made it feel like it was still fresh in many minds.  Their struggles, their sacrifices and their service are all things that we can only remember in our own personal ways.

Watch a slideshow of this tour here

Steve Muth
Tour Manager
Academic Travel Abroad

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ATA staff member remembers D-Day

Yale D-Day 125

The bleach white crosses in Normandy

A few weeks ago, I joined the ranks of 18 Yale Alumni for what we subsequently described as a pilgrimage. We started our voyage in London, retracing the steps taken by so many some 65 years ago as they embarked in England and crossed the frigid waters of the English Channel, only to land in the turbulent cold waters of the hard sandy beaches of Normandy. From the Cabinet War Rooms and adjoining Churchill Museum, to Bletchley Park, Southwick House, and the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, we learned of Churchill, Britain at War, and the intricate preparations for what remains today the largest and most successful beach landing in history.

From Portsmouth we then boarded a ferry and crossed the English Channel. Though our crossing was significantly more comfortable than that of “the boys” on the night of June 5th and the early hours of June 6th 1944, we none-the-less carried with us the weight of their journey.

In Normandy, we viewed the colorful stained glass windows in the small town church of Sainte Mère Eglise honoring members of the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions who parachuted into town in the night of June 5, and explored the adjoining Paratrooper Museum. We walked the hallowed sand at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach where many American lives were lost and decisive beach-heads secured, and viewed the towering cliffs scaled by intrepid Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. We paid our respects at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and at the British Cemetery in Bayeux. We were reminded that war affects all sides of the conflict, and that the soldiers our young forces were fighting against were no less boys, and no less human than our own as we walked the grounds of the German cemetery at La Cambe. We gained knowledge and perspective regarding the Mulberry harbors at Arromanches (and all the material and troops which came through the artificial port) and the continued campaign that was the battle of Normandy which raged on for weeks after the June 6th landings. We were challenged along the way to respect those who died, respect those who fought, yet also to resist the temptation of glorifying war…

Among the many highlights of the trip – three stand out for me. The first, in England, at Bletchley Park. One of our travelers had done research prior to the trip and had discovered that among the 30,000 men and women who worked tirelessly to decipher the Enigma Code, 300 were Americans. And among those 300 Americans were 6 “Yalies.” As a result of this discovery, a plaque was made and as we started our visit at Bletchley we had the honor of presenting it to the Bletchley Trust, commemorating the work, sacrifice and commitment of those 6 men and the part they played in gathering intelligence which shortened the war and saved lives.

Our friend the Scot.

Our friend the Scot.

The second occurred in Normandy, on Omaha Beach. We were approached by an older woman who asked us if we were Americans. When we responded affirmatively, she said “I’m here with my husband. He is a Scott, but he served with the Americans and landed here. This is his first time back. Can you please come speak with him?” It was an incredibly touching act and many were moved both by what this veteran had to share, and by his wife’s seeking us out. Our group thanked him for his sacrifice and courage.

And finally, for me personally – Sainte Mère Eglise. Our first official stop in Normandy was Sainte Mère Eglise. As we pulled into the town square, we were surprised to see it was market day. Having grown up in Normandy, I was thrilled by the unexpected treat of walking through this small market, with all its familiar colors, sounds, smells and yes – tastes! My soul was fed, my spirits reborn! Some of our travelers purchased aged Calvados and shared the delicious treat with the rest of the group at the end of a long, emotion-filled day. How perfect.

Marie-Rose

Senior Tour Manager

Academic Travel Abroad