Re­mem­ber­ing the D-Day In­va­sion

Along the shores of Nor­mandy to­day

The Weekly Vista - - Front Page - MARK KREYMBORG Spe­cial to the Weekly Vista

Ed­i­tors note:

Bella Vista res­i­dent and world trav­eler Mark Kreymborg is also an am­a­teur his­to­rian with an in­ter­est in World War II. He oc­ca­sion­ally shares his trav­els with the “Vista,” in­clud­ing a visit — along with his wife, Ronda — to the beaches of Nor­mandy.

By the time D-Day, June 6, 1944, ar­rived, World War II had been go­ing on for al­most five long years, with Ger­many con­trol­ling most of Europe for four years. The Ger­mans started work­ing on the At­lantic Wall shortly af­ter they got to France, know­ing some­day the Al­lies would come back for Europe. Nor­mandy in France was part of that mas­sive At­lantic Wall de­fense project, a sleepy coastal area with farms, hedgerows, and cat­tle, along with some beau­ti­ful beaches. Early in 1944, Hitler sent his best gen­eral, Er­win Rom­mel, the hero of his North Africa triumphs early in the war, to France to help pre­pare the At­lantic wall to re­pel the Al­lied in­va­sion he knew was com­ing. The good news was that the Al­lies, led by Gen­eral Dwight Eisen­hower, would choose where on the 1,000-plus-mile-long At­lantic Wall they would in­vade. Eisen­hower chose a 50 mile stretch of beaches in Nor­mandy.

On the day of the in­va­sion, the Al­lies landed more than 160,000 troops, in­clud­ing more than 22,000 para­troop­ers who be­gan land­ing af­ter mid­night on June 6. By the end of June, al­most 900,000 troops had been put ashore at Nor­mandy. This would be like mov­ing the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of San Fran­cisco 100 miles in three weeks! About 6,000 ships were in­volved in the in­va­sion to move these troops. The com­bined air forces of the Al­lies used 13,000 planes on D-Day, in an area about the size of the state of Ohio from the bases in Eng­land to the beaches. Com­pare that with Amer­i­can Air­lines, which sched­ules about 6,900 flights each day all over the world. The two years of plan­ning that went into this were well used.

On D-Day, only one still pho­tog­ra­pher landed with the first wave, Robert Capa, a renowned war pho­tog­ra­pher. He took some of the most mov­ing pho­tos of what hap­pened early in the in­va­sion and on the most dif­fi­cult beach, Omaha. Iron­i­cally, of the four rolls he shot and sent back to Lon­don to be de­vel­oped, only five pic­tures sur­vived, some of the most iconic D-Day im­ages.

What is Nor­mandy like to­day? Beau­ti­ful. His­toric. The peo­ple of Nor­mandy are nice, pleas­ant and help­ful. This trip was planned with three ob­jec­tives: 1) I could tour the Bat­tle of the Bulge bat­tle­field for a few days; 2) We would tour the Nor­mandy D-Day sites and ex­plore this his­toric ter­ri­tory — I thought Ronda would find it in­ter­est­ing; 3) spend some time in Paris that Ronda would en­joy in re­turn for see­ing bat­tle­fields. It turned out I was off base. Ronda would have traded the time in Paris for more time in Nor­mandy in a heart­beat.

We stayed in a nice ho­tel on a sand dune on Omaha Beach, right over the hill from the eastern end of Omaha. Sol­diers fought and died right here. The first thing we did was head to the ceme­tery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Be­fore we got there, we saw the church at Colleville-sur-Mur, just up from the beaches, and fell in love with it. We stopped here ev­ery day, some­times twice. The church was first at­tacked by Lt. Joe Daw­son, who led his team off the beach early to clear the church. This church steeple had good ob­ser­va­tion of the beaches to di­rect ar­tillery against the Amer­i­can ships and troops. Un­til Daw­son got there.

On to the ceme­tery. Buried here are 9,387 Amer­i­cans in the most beau­ti­ful set­ting you can imag­ine. Right above Omaha Beach, much more peace­ful now than on June 6. Thick with he­roes, four Medal of Honor win­ners are buried here, in­clud­ing Teddy Roo­sevelt Jr. This me­mo­rial is ex­tremely well main­tained by the Amer­i­can Bat­tle Mon­u­ments Com­mis­sion, has great in­for­ma­tion ev­ery­where, folks avail­able to help if you need it. A new vis­i­tor’s cen­ter has been added since our visit, so I guess we need to go back. The ceme­tery is right above the beach, with a path down, first made go­ing up on June 6 by some of Amer­ica’s Great­est Gen­er­a­tion. It’s hard to be­lieve how pow­er­ful a jar of sand can be, but pick up some on Omaha Beach, you will no­tice.

Now head­ing west to Utah Beach. First Point du Hoc, the sight of the tough­est as­sign­ment of the in­va­sion, given to the Rangers. They had to climb up a 200-foot cliff with Ger­man ma­chine gun­ners ev­ery­where and cap­ture some big guns. The place was bombed around the clock, and the guns were not there when the Rangers got there, but the Rangers got there. To­day, Point du Hoc has not been changed one bit since the in­va­sion. Same bunkers, ev­ery shell hole still in place — eerie, spooky, and star­tling in its seem­ing im­pos­si­bil­ity to over­come. But it was over­come.

Utah Beach was the western end of the in­va­sion. Just in­land was St. Mere El­glise, an ob­jec­tive of the early land­ing para­troop­ers to prevent Ger­man re­in­force­ments from get­ting to the beach. There is a fa­mous church here that a para­trooper landed on and was hang­ing from the steeple for many hours, his para­chute caught. Pri­vate Steele was made fa­mous by Red But­tons in the great movie “The Long­est Day.” There is a great mu­seum next to the church, in a beau­ti­ful and small town square. As a mat­ter of fact, there are mu­se­ums all along the 50 miles of beaches, 30 or more.

We headed east to the Bri­tish and Cana­dian beaches — Gold, Juno and Sword. There were some big guns the Bri­tish had to cap­ture. Pe­ga­sus Bridge was the key ob­jec­tive of the Bri­tish para­troop­ers, who cap­tured it and held it for two days un­til re­lieved. There is a beau­ti­ful mu­seum there, the orig­i­nal bridge has been re­placed, but sits right out­side. We watched a Bri­tish tour group be­ing briefed by Jack Wat­son, a para­trooper who landed on D-Day near the bridge. We spoke to him for quite a while, he showed us his pic­ture on the wall, re­ceiv­ing a medal from top Bri­tish Gen­eral Bernard Mont­gomery. We were talk­ing to his­tory. He even showed us on a 3-D map of the bat­tle­field where he dug his fox­hole.

Both Ronda and I loved Nor­mandy — not just the his­tory so dear to Amer­ica but the sac­ri­fice of the French peo­ple there. They are gra­cious hosts, there is much good food and many things to see. Not just the in­va­sion, but some of the most beau­ti­ful churches you will ever see are there— ev­ery small town has one. One can­not come away with any­thing but awe for what these peo­ple went through, four years of Ger­man con­trol, the largest in­va­sion in the his­tory of war, a ma­jor bat­tle in the back­yard.

Photo sub­mit­ted

Mark Kreymborg took this photo on a beach in Nor­mandy to recre­ate one of the few sur­viv­ing pho­tos of the In­va­sion on D-Day.

Photo sub­mit­ted

The Amer­i­can ceme­tery at Omaha Beach where more than 9,000 sol­diers were buried.

Photo sub­mit­ted

This is one of the pho­tos taken by the only pho­tog­ra­pher who ac­com­pa­nied the first wave of troops on D-Day, Robert Capa. Only a few of his pho­tos sur­vived.

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