Day Ten--Monday, June 24, 2013--Omaha Beach, Matti's briefing, a visit with Marie Louise Osmont and checking out the tapestry.
These days just seem to get more and more full of amazing experiences. For the record, with the possible exception of the eulogy readings on Tuesday, nothing will be able to top our time in Periers yesterday visiting the statue of Virgil Tangborn. So many people have commented on how deeply moving that was as well as how composed, yet how moving, Matti's impromptu speech was about him.
Today started out very moving as well with a stop at Omaha Beach and the Vierville Draw right at the base of Dog Green Beach. We read about this with several books, most notably "Bedford Boys" and we also saw this invasion recreated in "Saving Private Ryan." Omaha Beach was the bloodiest part of the D-Day invasion and many of the student's soldiers died on this beach. It was so very moving to stand there on that sand, look out at the ocean and look up at the adjacent bluffs and imagine having to cover that distance all while merciless machine gun fire rained down cutting thousands of soldiers to their death.
We then went up to the German strongpoint at Longues sur Mer, located near Gold Beach. This battery included four 15 cm naval guns and were able to hit targets on Omaha, Gold and Juno Beaches. The battery was bombarded by the U.S. Army Air Force on June 5 but they were not impacted until the next day when British soldiers captured the battery late in the day on D-Day. Walking around these killing machines, in massive concrete bunkers, was contrasted by sheer beauty all around. Fields of flowers, most notably red poppies, the kind worn on Memorial Day and from Flander's Fields (WWI poem) were all over and proved distracting to my camera.
Net we headed to the Mulberry Harbors at Arromanches where, thanks to Churchill's foresight, the Allies were able to construct massive artificial harbors for offloading supplies and men from ships into Normandy. This is also where Matti gave her briefing on the role of logistics and the support roles in the Normandy campaign. As she always does when speaking to a crowd, Matti was articulate, clear, friendly, balanced and informative. She was even told by one of our program leaders that she has a future in public speaking someday in someway. I was so proud of how well she did and recorded every second of it. Whether it will be watchable or not is difficult to know at this point because it was so windy in that location you might not be able to hear it over the gusts.
Our final stop as a group for the day was Periers-sur-le-Dan to look at Marie Louise Osmont's house, grave and town. We read her diary as part of our studies to prepare for this trip and got to live through the German occupation and then the Allied invasion through her eyes. It was a beautiful area in which she lived and now rests. Just seeing everything in person that we'd read about just months before was a surreal experience. There was nothing touristy about it, nothing commercial, we couldn't even get through the gates to her house but the feeling of that location was there, alive and well, thanks to the vivid images captured in her diary.
After all that, we returned to the hotel for an afternoon on our own. Matti and I opted to spend time with newly formed friends and tour the Bayeux Tapestry, an almost 1,0000 embroidered cloth that's 230-feet long and visually depicts the story of the Norman Invasion of 1066. The story is about William the Conqueror making a cross-channel invasion of England and establishing the tradition that continues to this day. Most English history courses start at 1066 much like most American history courses start at 1776. It was beautiful and actually a very interesting story.
The rest of the time was spent shopping, hanging out in Bayeux and then meeting up altogether as a large group for a lovely dinner at the L'Europe Brassiere. It's hard to believe that this is our last dinner and our last night in this lovely city of Bayeux. It has been an absolutely wonderful place to stay and both of us hope we are lucky enough in our lives to be able to return. There is so much more to see and do here that a return visit might just have to get added to the bucket list.
Tuesday is time for touring the American Cemetery, delivering eulogies, crying our eyes out about it all, and then on to Paris for two nights. Wednesday is time to explore Paris and Thursday morning we board planes for a return to the United States.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. Lt Col John McRae
Day Ten--Monday, June 24, 2013--Omaha Beach, Matti's briefing, a visit with Marie Louise Osmont and checking out the tapestry