Austria-Europe Trip – Tuesday, April 21, 2016

Bonjour! Hello from Normany, France. Great day today! Sunny and about 65 degrees for the high. We did get a little sprinkle at about 6:30 pm but it didn’t last long.

Today we visited sites on Omaha Beach. This is where the 29th Infantry Division (Virginia and Maryland National Guard) and the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) came ashore on D-Day. Here is what we saw today: (1) National Guard Memorial at Grandcamp-Maisy,  France; (2) Pointe du Hoc and Ranger Memorial – it is here that Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to knockout a German artillery battery; (3) National Guard D-Day Memorial and memorial to the 29th Infantry Division on Omaha Beach; (4) Infantry Division Memorial on Omaha Beach; (5) The Normandy American Cemetery – where US servicemen and women who were killed on D-Day and in the ongoing fight in Normandy are buried; (6) Bayeux Memorial WWII Museum; (7) The Bayeux Tapestry – it depicts the story of William the Conquor’s 1066 victory at the Battle of Hastings; and (8) The Bayeux Notre Dame Cathedral.

Everything we saw today was absolutely awesome but a couple of things really stood out for me personally. First, there was Pointe du Hoc where the Rangers climbed up the cliff under constant enemy fire to destroy a German artillery battery that had been relocated several days before hand. Of the 225 Rangers that started the climb, only 150 made it up the hill and another 55 were killed defending the position from German counterattack. To do what they did took great courage and determination and I am in awe of what they did there.

The second thing that as a retired National Guardsman had some very special meaning for me were the National Guard Memorial and the 29th Infantry Division Memorial. The 29th (“Let’s Go”) Infantry Division had probably the toughest fight of any unit on D-Day. In the initial wave of troops they suffered significant casualties so severe they were virtually combat ineffective. Company A, 116 Infantry Regiment, from Bedford, Virginia, had 90 percent casualties within the first 10 minutes of the battle and no city in America suffered more casualties on a single day in WWII than Bedford did. As I looked across the beach today it was as if I could hear the crack of rifle fire, the rat-tat-tat of machine guns, the explosions of mortars and artillery, and the screams of the wounded and dying. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears and get choked up. It was a very moving experience.

The third thing, and probably the most significant of the things we visited today, was the Normandy American Cemetery. It is located only several hundred yards behind Omaha Beach. There are 9,387 of America’s finest buried there. Their white headstones are laid out in precisely aligned rows just as if they were standing in formation. The Memorial Garden at the front of the cemetery also lists the names of 1,557 who are missing in action. Three (3) Medal of Honor recipients are buried here, including Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt Jr. (President Teddy Roosevelt’s son) who went ashore with the 4th Infantry Division on Utah Beach. He was one of two general officers that landed with their troops in the initial assault on D-Day. The other General was Brigadier General Cota from the 29th Infantry Division. I think the thing that impressed me the most was the beauty, the peacefulness, and how clean and well kept it was. It looked as if they mow the grass and pick up the leaves on a daily basis.

I did get choked up a few times as we walked through the cemetery. One time in particular was when Michelle and I were looking at a few of the headstones just to see what unit they had served in and what state they were from, when we saw a headstone labeled “Here rests in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms Known But to God.” Another time was when Michelle found General Roosevelt’s headstone. On the left of his headstone is the headstone of his brother who had died in World War I, but on the right was a Private. It just shows that when it comes to life and death, we are all equals and that rank, stature, privilege, and wealth doesn’t matter. On the walk back to the car we walked past the Memorial and just as we did they started to play The Star Spangled Banner over the loudspeakers and just as they finished it, they began playing Taps. What a moving moment! (I’m not sure why they did this, but we did see a large group of people in front of the memorial and it looked like they may have had a wreath laying ceremony.) Every American should visit one of our national cemeteries like this one. It truly reminds you that “freedom is never free” and is paid for in blood by those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. May we never forget!

Well, that is our report for today. Tomorrow (April 13), we will start out the day by visiting the Pegasus bridge in Caen. This is where British paratroopers jumped in just before the D-Day landing to seize this important bridge over the Orne canal. After that, we head out for Amiens and Albert, France to visit the Somme (World War I) battlefield and the American Cemetery located there. Finally, we will end up tomorrow evening in Bastogne, Belgium.

I’ll post a few pictures for you in the morning before we head out. Blessings!

Au revoir!

Fred

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