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But then we travelers went on to visit the Normandy beaches. But first we stopped at Vierville sur Mer, a tiny town with a portion right on the Sea. That's what sur Mer means in French, on the sea. We parked our car along the road with the front bumper pointing outward where so many American boys had died. Behind us was a little store front and some picnic tables on top of the sea wall. We purchased two cold beverages and quietly sat looking out over the sea. There was a silence here, a sanctity. This place knew what had happened here. It should have been a resort town, a place with festivities, laughing, shouting, showing signs of frivality as we had seen at Dieepe, Fecamp and Etretat. But here with much the same view, it was quiet. I am told that people here still say "Thank you" to any American they see. There are even some hulks of the sunken American ships lying out in the sea water a ways. There was a rough memorial here, but now in looking at views of this town online, I see that the townspeople have built a much larger memorial monument in preparation for a recent 65 year remembrance of D-Day. After some quiet time here we went over to the American Cemetery which is very close. The photos you see here are of that cemetery, that is also a very hallowed place. You just can't help but feel the presence of all those souls that left their body here.
It was at the Memorial structure and Grave of the Unknown Soldier above that we had one of the strange experiences that we have had while traveling all over the world. We hadn't realized but we were visiting this site on the French equivalent of our Memorial Day. It was a holiday. My husband was taking a picture of the Memorial when we noted a young man in a US military uniform leaning against one of the side columns of this memorial structure with a large TV camara on his shoulder.We were very sure he was American so we went over to wish him well. We learned that he was in the American Airborn and stationed in Italy but they were having war games in Normandy. They were restaging the parachute drop that occurred in 1944, and this tiime they were trying to get it right. You may know that many of the planes and the drops were way off course. He told us that there was to be a memorial service that afternoon and he was setting up to film it. We asked him where he was from. "Florida. Where are you from?" he asked. We told him Wisconsin. He said, "My wife went to school in Wisconsin at the UW in Madison." We told him that was where we had met while going to school there also. Then he said, "Well, she's really not from Wisconsin; she grew up in Illinois." I said, "Oh, so did I in a little town near Rockford, IL." He asked, "What little town?" I told him "Pecatonica." He said, "Oh my God, that's where my wife grew up." He gave us her name and mentioned all sorts of names I knew. She was the daughter of one of my sisters classmates. The young man was so moved by this connection that he got his wife on the phone while we were standing there and told her all about it. We always have experiences like this while traveling. The world is truly a small place and that old saw about there being just 6 degrees of separation is often proven true.
We went on to visit Point du Hoc, another unbelievably heroic place, where the US Rangers defied unbelievable odds to take that German entrenchment and battery. It is phenomenal to see what those Rangers had to overcome to carry out their assignment. I think just a handful survived. Here are just a few photos from that memorial site.
The German bunker still stands as a memorial on Point du Hoc
The rough hewn memorial marker to the Rangers stands at cliff edge.
Our Old Glory flies proudly over this site, standing for our servicemen who fought here.
I have one more link for you. This is a 9 minute take from the old black and white movie, The Longest Day. Take a look and get an idea what it was like on this piece of rocky shoreline. Though I think that the movie probably portrays the job as too easy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og7D2_wLQ3Y