Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rain, rain, go away…

The flags of all the countries that participated in the D-Day landings.

Flat Stanley went with us the to cemetery at Normandy beach

It has rained both while we were in Le Havre and while we were in Dover (if you’ve been watching the Wimbledon Tennis you probably noticed that it was raining). I can’t complain too much (oh, yes, I can!) because this is the first real rain we’ve seen in 52 days. We are now on the going-back part of our journey, 52 days gone—Where? Where have they gone?—and 52 to go.

A lot of people on the ship have been down with an intestinal bug that the ship can’t seem to get rid of, in spite of rigorous cleanliness protocols. Now there is an outbreak of upper respiratory infections that Randy, first, and now I, have come down with. We don’t feel too bad, just a persistent cough (me) and runny nose (Randy). And I have completely lost my voice. The best I can do is a whispery, high-pitched squeak. But we have avoided the intestinal bug, I’m sure thanks to my insistence on washing our hands frequently. I suppose it is difficult in such a closed environment, especially when it is alternately hot-and-humid and AC-cold-and-dry, to avoid such infections. The ship is flying a yellow flag, which, we are told, tell the towns where we dock that we have something over 3% of the passengers down with an infection. At some point—which I hope we never reach—they fly a red flag and the towns won’t let us dock at all.

Our Le Havre tour was OK; not great, just OK. I arranged with Le Havre Taxi for what I thought was an  English-speaking guide for a tour of the Normandy beaches of World War II. What we got was an English-speaking driver for a drive around to the beaches. Not all bad as we could go at our own pace and didn’t have to listen to a possibly long-winded guide.

The beaches of Normandy were really special, apparently even to the four Australians who were with us. To look at the gun emplacements; the huge craters from the bombs; the sheer cliffs the Americans, the British, and the Canadians had to climb just to reach those German emplacements was truly both awe-inspiring and depressing. What courage those young men—and they were overwhelmingly young: 17 to 21 mostly and men although there were a few women, predominantly nurses and a few civilians—had in the face of what must have seemed insurmountable obstacles.

We walked around Utah and Omaha Beaches, the memorial and remains of the war at Pointe du Hoc, and the memorial by the American cemetery near Omaha Beach. Pointe du Hoc was brutal; a memorial monument, some bomb craters filled now with wild grasses and flowers, the gun emplacements, and of course, the cliffs our soldiers climbed and died in appalling numbers.
The beach and the flowers and barbed wire

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial were definitely lump-in-the-throat areas. I’m glad I didn’t have to talk when we saw the rows and rows of perfectly aligned Lase marble Latin crosses and Stars of David; no matter what direction you looked, the alignment was absolutely to-the-millimeter aligned, so white against the deep green of the grass. The fact that it was a gray and drizzly day just compounded the sadness; contemplating all those lost lives, all that lost potential, all the lost future generations just made it sadder still. Walking in that cemetery was definitely a “Lest We Forget” moment. And, too often, I think we do forget what it took to be where we are today. Among other things, that all those thousands of young men gave their lives so we will not be speaking German or Japanese. The brochure says, “To reach the plateau where Normandy American Cemetery stands, troops fought across an open area of up to 200 yards, and attacked up steep bluffs. By day’s end, the Americans held fragile control of Omaha Beach.”

Some statistics: headstones, 9,387; missing in action, 1557; sets of brothers, 41; Medal of Honor recipients, 3 (too few!). And this is just one cemetery.
By 1100 we pretty much had had enough rain and enough cemeteries and enough gun emplacements although there are many others to be seen. One I kind of wish we’d seen, although I never had heard of it before this trip, was Arromanches’ “artificial port.” That’s really all I know about it. Anyway we asked our driver to bag the rest of the beaches and take us to Honfleur (“tall flower”), a beautiful (if it weren’t raining) little French town with, according to Narelle, one of our “Cool Cruisers,” the most beautiful church anywhere. She’s right! It’s a beautiful church made entirely of wood and we even got to see a wedding.

We wandered about, had lunch—which was a crap-shoot because they didn’t (or wouldn’t) speak English so we really didn’t know what we were ordering—and found a battery for my pedometer and bought umbrellas, thus guaranteeing that it won’t rain any more.

Photos of just some of the soldiers and civilians whose bodies were never found. They are remembered in this gallery.

The "official" memorial at Normandy

The remembrance wall

In Honfleur, I just couldn't resist this photo. Just a family at play. Probably a plumber's family.

Village of Honfleur

Reading about the devastating losses that some of our troops endured; one Ranger battalion started with 250, 90 survived.

Another photo I couldn't resist. This is Mom helping Dad into the wrapping and wrapping of the fabric that will envelop both Dad and Junior to enable Dad to carry him. It easily took 10 minutes for the wrapping and tugging and placing and knotting and and and...

Inside St Catherines, before the wedding. The lilies look a little wilted, but maybe they're supposed to look that way?

The priest getting ready for the wedding.

These are the cliffs the GIs of WWII had to scale while German guns hailed bullets down upon them.

Can you even imagine climbing these cliffs even without being under fire?

In the rain, one of the monuments to our fallen soldiers.

Another really touching display.

More of the Honfleur waterfront.

Flat Stanley in Honfleur, shopping.

Flat Stanley in Honfleur's waterfront.

St Catherine's

Yet another local beer for Flat Stanley

I cannot see the beauty of these beaches, all I can see are the bodies and the blood.

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