Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Today I am sitting on a ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth after having spent the last several days in Normandy for the 75th Anniversary of the D Day landings that began the liberation of, and ultimately ended the war in, Europe. I was moved by the deep respect for the day amongst the local population. We chose to drive from the airport out to the beaches and had set the navigation to avoid the highways. (This is standard practice for us when traveling by car so that we see more than highways and service stations) The value of this decision was not lost on either of us as we drove through so many little villages - some no more than a few houses - all of which flew the flags of the Allies from every window and street corner. For hundreds of kilometers these villages displayed the flags of their liberators - the national flags of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom alongside the Screaming Eagle of the 101st Airborne and the AA of the 82nd Airborne.
Look closely and you can see hanging on the church here is a statue of paratrooper John Steele, whose parachute caught on the bell tower of the church in Saint Mere Eglise
I woke early yesterday and looked out my window at the dawn light bathing the town of Cherbourg in the peaceful morning. Thinking of the soldiers who landed at Utah in the pre-dawn light 75 years ago I said to myself "and they were already here." Their morning was not so peaceful and I suddenly felt the need to get out to the beaches.
At both Utah Beach and in the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, there were a great number of reenactors dressed in vintage uniforms. I was particularly touched by the thousands of French men dressed in the uniforms of the United States infantry, with the Stars and Stripes flying proudly from their vehicles. In Sainte-Mere-Eglise, I met fresh faced young men who are in the 82nd Airborne today and had come to honor their comrades and to take part in memorial events. To see the roads and towns and beaches and fields that both my grandfathers and tens of thousands more fought to liberate, and the continued passion amongst the local population to recognize their sacrifice, made the whole experience something that has honestly been difficult to put into words.
Both active duty servicemen and veterans joined together for the commemorations
Standing in the sunshine on Utah Beach, looking out at the beautiful blue sea, it was hard to imagine this beautiful place being where so many young men gave all of their tomorrows for our today. The local people have not forgotten, though there are less and less every year who experienced the events first hand. I also had the opportunity to meet a handful of the few remaining veterans of the war, to shake their hand, to hear their story. Only a few short years from now, we will be the ones who say "we met a man who fought at Utah and liberated Europe." Soon their story will be ours to tell.
I highly recomend a visit to this area for anyone who had family in the war or who has a particular interest in these events. I have read about the events extensively, but nothing can compare to taking the time to walk along the dunes, see the gun emplacements pockmarked by blasts from our warships, and the remains of the temporary Allied harbors still slowly sinking into the sand. Every country road you drive down has memorials both large and small, a continued testament to the thousands of men who liberated a foreign land and never came home.
If you are interested in a Normandy visit or a Liberation Route tour, either covering the war generally or specifially for a particular unit, let's get in touch. There is so much here to see and experience, and I personally cannot wait to come back and dive even deeper into the history throughout the region.