France Day 23 - D-Day. All Day.

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Our room here at Hotel de la Marine (, includes breakfast. We had very low expectations. But boy were we wrong! Great spread of fresh baguettes and croissants, cheese, eggs, cereal, coffee.... much more than the 'continental breakfast included' lead me to believe. So good in fact, that Samuel asks, "Daddy, can we eat breakfast here EVERY day?" : )

Today is the day for all things WW2 related.

First stop is Caen, home of the famous Memorial for Peace. . Not only is this rated as the best WW2 museum in the Normandy area, but it also includes free childcare! What a great idea for a museum like this. The kids love it, and we bring them with us to a couple of exhibits (9/11, the thirty minute video about the Normandy invasion, and the Hall of Fame for past Noble Peace Prize winners). I had estimated about two - three hours for the museum. We end up spending just over five and a half hours there. All in all, I'd have to rate it 7 out of 10 as far as museums go. I was a bit disappointed to find that many of the displays felt very dated. Don't get me wrong, we learned a lot, and were able to read about lots of stories and see little odds and ends that don't make it in to all the history books ... I just felt like the place could use some modernizing is all. I think the Holocaust Museum in DC is a much more powerful place and I had hoped the Caen museum would have an equally profound impact on me.

But, that said, my favorite part of the museum was hearing the various quotes from Churchill and Roosevelt while exploring the relics of the war. I also liked seeing and learning about the underwater mines that were used, ... and hearing more details about the RAF's fight against the Luftwaffe, ... and seeing video and photos from the brutal Eastern front. ... The most interesting thing about the Allies section was the collection of letters that are on display. The letters from the GI's on the ground give a direct insight in to how they were feeling ... at least to some degree. Many of them wrote with conviction that they were fully aware of the stakes, ... they knew death would meet them and their brothers in arms on a regular basis,... and they were willing to take the risk, willing to sacrifice themselves. And not just for some sense of goodness (remember, we weren't aware of the Jewish pograms at this time ...) ... these men were willing to die for the USA. Its a far cry from the sediments that many ... that MOST ... carry for our country today. ... Another letter that struck me was one of a high ranking US military man who wrote back to his family in a more skeptical view of things his recounting of the dog eat dog atmosphere that had developed. He wrote how we were knowingly killing civilian French in order to 'liberate' the French ... and he contrasted this with how the Germans did the same, only we were trying to protect the civilians they were trying to kill and vice-versa.

After the museum, we packed in to the car and headed off towards the Utah and Omaha beachheads. On the way, we discovered that our route would take us very near to the German cemetery. It was a cold feeling, sobering place. I took the opportunity to try to explain to the kids, who were a bit baffled why we were at the 'bad guys' cemetery, that there were likely many many good men who were forced to serve in Germany's army ...and that our army also likely had many evil and wicked men in it. ... Samuel seemed to get the idea. Ella not so much. Very interesting to see the small black crosses at the graves, where the deceased Germans were buried two per headstone. Contrasted against the US cemetery ... a very different feeling.

Next, we stopped at Pointe Du Hoc. This field of destruction gives a taste of what that horrible day must have looked and felt like. Just crazy. Blown up bunkers, huge craters everywhere.

Our next stop was Omaha Beach. Not a whole lot to see, but we did enjoy driving along the beach watching families, couples, and children playing in the sand ... flying kites and such. In my mind, I flashed back to the footage shown at the museum of a fighter pilot strafing the Allied invasion of the same beach. ...

Next, the US cemetery. We arrive to find a guard at the entrance who warns us that they close in FOUR minutes! Yikes. He kindly lets us enter the gates anyhow, and I step on the gas, screeching in to our parking spot. We literally run down the path, through the entrance and on to the cemetery grass ... not the most sober and serious entrance you could script, but hey .... whaddaya gonna do, ya know? It was funny, the whole time Ella was asking, "Daddy, can we skip?" ... hard to explain to a 4yr old why thats not appropriate. : ) .... The kids were fascinated, and Samuel was SURE there were more dead buried here than the German grave (not true, the Germans have more than double!). Ella went from cross to cross, "Daddy, who is this?" .... I'd read the name and home town. She'd jet to the next. Samuel was intrigued when I told him what the "known but to God" crosses meant, and he loved hearing about dog-tags. He is such a boy. ... The cemetery is a wonderful reminder of the horrible cost of war. I wish every voting American, every world leader, every head of state ... could grasp this ... this just brutal loss of life. I can't stop thinking about my Grandpa and what a pacifist he was in his late years after his service in the military. I think many people who have served in vicious wars must feel a similar way, no? ... and just then, the same guard who let us in lets us know they are closed ... they've let us stay late. Very kind. And we head out.

Dang it. Looks like somebody hit our car in the parking lot! Looks just like the height of an RV. Argh. Maybe it was there before, but I don't think so. We will have to check with Franc and Sandrine when they get back.

On the road a couple of minutes more until we near Arromanches again and find the gun battery on the opposite hill that we were on yesterday. Four bunkers remain in perfect condition, ... three guns still housed in them. Amazing. Wow. Powerful. We've just seen the footage of these bad boys firing ... and now, here we are seeing, touching, exploring them. Really neat.

Janice and I are whooped at this point from the rush of emotions and the weightiness of all that we've seen today. Time to head back to the hotel for some R&R. We get back 'home' to our hotel around 8pm. Can't say enough good things about the hotel. Excellent staff. Amazing views. Great parking. Comfortable beds. Quiet walls. Everything you could ask for.

As we wind down the evening I snap some photos of Sam soaking up the view from the window. He's just learned about how the tide works on this trip, ... or at least the fact that there IS a tide. Our room gives a great view as it comes in and out each day.

We wrap up the night with the kids asking for another story about Great Grandpa Al. To get them more interested in WW2, I've been telling them stories about their heroic ancestor. They love it. Great thing is, I don't have to exaggerate one bit or make up stories. My Grandpa was an amazing pilot. Check this out if you don't believe me ... you can read his fighting stories, newspaper clippings, etc. He was a part of the D-Day mission, escorted a bunch of gliders in over enemy lines ... all the while with a bum engine that threatened to catch fire!

A great, memorable day.
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oliveteresa on

sounds like a wonderful experience, including the german cemetery perspective for sam.
i tried the hyperlink to see the info about your grandfather, but it didn't work.

nicoleisjealous on

u-boat bunker picture

Yesterday I saw a picture of a U-boat bunker and wanted to show it to Dan, but now I can't find it. Which day is it on?

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