Rainy Day

Wednesday, March 09, 2016
Bayeux, Normandy, France
We realized today that up until now, we have been pretty lucky with the weather. It has been cool and we have received rain here and there, but nothing like the monsoon we had today. Cold, rainy and windy pretty much dominated the weather scene.

I walked down to the bakery at 7:30 to pick up some fresh croissants and lemon tarts . Dad really loves the lemon tarts, but still thinks the ones we had at the gas station were better. Our tour guide, Bertrand, was coming to pick us up at 9 am. We had a quick breakfast and then piled into Bertrand's VW for our tour. Bertrand was raised in this area and is married to a woman from New Jersey, so he has been to the U.S. a few times. His parents were born after the war, but one of his grandfathers fought for the Allies and was captured by the Germans. He did survive being a POW, but never talked much about his experience.

It's hard to describe today, as I'm still taking it all in. I think what amazes me the most is how young the men were who fought in this war, both for the Germans and the Allies. The Allies, especially, had been training in England, but really had no idea what they were up against. One thing that Bertrand showed us in Bayeux was a Sherman tank that was produced in the U.S. Thousands of these tanks were made and shipped over, but they weren't very effective because they couldn't get through the hedge rows . The purpose of a hedge row, planted centuries ago in France, was to act as a fence for animals. The Germans, on the other hand, built smaller tanks that camouflaged the hedge rows well. 

We visited both the German cemetery (La Cambe) and the American cemetery, where the contrast was very evident. La Cambe is stark and has a huge mound in the center where unknown soldiers have been buried. The crosses in the German cemetery were made of rock brought here from Germany, and German soldiers were buried two per grave, because of room. There are two worn books at La Cambe that lists the names of those buried. We took a quick look at it to see if we could find possible ancestors or last names of families we know back home. The American cemetery has a huge memorial and wall of the names of those soldiers whose bodies were never found. If they had been found since the wall was built, a dot was placed by the name. But, we didn't see too many of those. 

We visited a German bunker at Pointe du Hoc, where many of the Allies scaled the cliffs that morning . By this time, the rain was coming down pretty hard, and we were all soaked and getting cold. We visited Omaha Beach as well, where the tide was pretty high today. He showed us a weapon the German used on the beach that could cause a lot of damage, but luckily the Allies were able to disengage it quickly. The sea water was rough and crazy, and I can't imagine it was much different that day those soldiers arrived on the shore, many already seasick, cold and scared. A video we watched featured a U.S. soldier talking about what it was like arriving on the beach. The noise, the explosion, the dust, and how it was the "closest thing to Hell." 

Bertrand answered a lot of our questions, about the war and about France in general. There were several points on the drive where he pointed out chateaus where German officers stayed during the war, or barbed wire the Allies used as landing strips for the planes which the French civilians then used as fencing. He showed us pictures of inflatable dummy tanks that the Allies planted across the shores from Calais, France. That was where the Germans thought the Allies were going to invade, because it was the closest distance between France and England. There were a lot of things he pointed out that we didn't know. He also said people still find body parts of soldiers, even after all of these years. One of them a few years ago still had a dog tag and was easily identified. 
Because of the weather, I was hesitant to take out my camera, and only took a few photos on my iPhone. And honestly, many of the photos I would've taken you can find somewhere online. It's not like I was going to take a selfie in front of the American cemetery. I felt a better way to take in the experience was to just be there. 

Thanks for reading,