Normally I start my daily writings chronicling the weather, our rush to breakfast and preparing for the day but not today, not today.
Today we will be visiting a site that is on both of our bucket lists, the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.
The bus trip to Normandy was long but enjoyable. Our guide spent the ride reminding everyone about the high points of the landing on Omaha Beach, the paratroopers who liberated the village of Sainte-mere-Eglise and other historical facts about that bloody day.
Along the way we passed beautiful countryside, the hedgerows the soldiers had to fight their way through and the row of beautiful trees along the road at the location of the German Cemetery. We also passed many places that still bore the signs of war even after all these years.
We arrived at the cemetery and took a short walk from the parking lot to the entrance and we were immediately impressed. The entrance was lined with beautifully sculpted trees leading to the cemetery, its many memorials and the path down to the overlook of the beach.
There were so many visitors from near and far that the parking lot was full.
From the moment I entered this sacred place my steps slowed, my voice lowered and tears filled my eyes.
The cemetery is so incredibly beautiful! What a beautiful way to pay homage to those wonderfully brave souls who so courageously ran into danger to release the grip of Hitler’s madness from the throat of Europe.
Our first top was at this beautiful sculpture reaching high into the sky called, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”. On either side on the walls were maps explaining pictorially the positions of each of the armies storming the beaches on June 6, 1944.
Then we turned around, descended the steps and our eyes were filled with the beauty of a large reflecting pool. Your eye followed the pool across a grassy field to a small round building. This little building was a beautiful, small chapel.
We walked toward the graves and turned to our right and walked along the wall overlooking the beach. Randy and I were struck when we realized that wreckage from that fateful day could still be seen at low tide.
We continued our walk to the chapel. It is simple in design but contains beautiful and symbolic inscriptions that pay homage to those who reside eternally in the surrounding cemetery. Above the chapel door is an engraved replica of the Medal of Honor.
I loved the inscriptions on the walls. The first read, “Think not only upon them passing…Remember the glory of their spirit”. The second read, “Through the gate of death may they pass to their joyful resurrection”. I loved this small, beautiful chapel.
At the back of the chapel is a small black marble altar surrounded with the flags of the countries who participate in the invasion with the inscription: “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish”.
The cemetery is a beautiful landscape of white headstones of Lasa marble Latin crosses and the Stars of David. Each headstone has an inscription of the fallen’s name, rank, unit and on the back of the headstone is their serial number. Every once in a while we would come upon a headstone that did not bear a name but rather read: Here rests in honored glory A Comrade in Arms Known but to God”.
Behind the chapel is another long stretch of green leading to two statues representing the United States and France. As we walked along you would hear hushed whispers as people walked along the paths and between the headstones. Every once in a while we would notice some stopping in front of a headstone and placing a single rose or bouquet of flowers at the foot of the headstone.
As we made our way back to the bus we stopped at the Garden of the Missing. The engraved tablets along the wall honor the missing in action who have their lives in this region. A bronze rosette beside a names shows that the remains were later recovered, identified and buried.
Randy and I were so impressed at the quiet reverence everyone showed as they walked the grounds. There were many, many Americans at the cemetery but we noticed that there were many, many French visitors too.
We continued our journey to the memorials at Omaha Beach. We walked down to the beach reading two lovely poems about the landing, looking at the several memorials and just trying to imagine what it was like all those years ago.
Our next stop was the village of Sainte-mere-Eglise. On our way to the village our attention was drawn to the remains of a German bunker high up in the hill still guarding th beach.
Our next stop was the village of Sainte-mere-Eglise that was liberated by members of the 82nd and 101st Division of paratroopers. High up hanging from a spire is a mannequin of paratrooper John Steele from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Steele got caught and hung there for two hours pretending to be dead. Eventually, the Germans got him down and he was a prisoner of war until he escaped and rejoined his unit. We stepped into the church to look at the beautiful stained glass window that honors the paratroopers brave.
At the end of the day, Randy and talked quietly about our day and I asked him how he felt about his experience at the cemetery.
After a bit of reflection he said, “This excursion accomplished one of my bucket list items. It was so awe inspiring and I was truly impressed by the beauty of this place of terrible bloodshed. It kind of gave me the same feeling of a modern day Gettysburg!!
I had read about this place in history and seen it in movies, but to be there was truly an experience I will never forget. So glad we finally got to experience this place in American history that we missed while we were in France last October”.
Today was one of the best excursions of our cruise by far; a dream come true. I will carry the image of this beautiful place for the rest of my days and remember always the sacrifice made by these brave souls.
As we pulled out of port, I spent some time just enjoying the sunset. Tomorrow we dock in Belgium.