This is the trip report of our first more than a weekend trip with our TC.
We have a very good relationship with Jeremy Brendel from “Wagner’s trailer sales” in Wisconsin, where we bought our Arctic Fox 992 and also get good advice on this forum, so there was only one place we could go, to make a trip to honor all of you.
During the easter holiday we went to Normandy, France to visit some of the many D-Day places. I probably don’t have to tell you that the trip had a double feeling to it. What I’ll describe is probably not everything we’ve done, but gives a good idea.
The first days in Normandy we visited places that were preserved from any war activity whatsoever, so almost all of the houses there are from the 19th century. Also, because of that, many of the roads there are not adapted to todays traffic, so they're VERY narrow to pass through with a US size camper, but that's like in many European places, btw... And that only makes it a challenge to drive through and I like challenges. The 3rd picture is an example of a back country 2 way street! Only had a car in the other direction for 2 times during that week. Once the other drove backwards until there was space to pass and once I did.
After the no-war-zone, we arrived at Juno Beach, where the Canadians arrived on June 6th in 1944. Then it must have been a phenomenal sight to see them arriving there, but now there's very little that still shows that they've been there. There's only a monument, one or two museums and a tank here and there. That's probably because they were very lucky that they could step out of their landing crafts and walk over the beach with very little to no German resistance. Lucky on that day, because many died later on. In the tank in the picture, all Canadian people inside were killed or heavily injured.
This is the monument at Juno beach, but can be seen on every landing beach in Normandy to honor all these young people who came to help us.
From there we followed the coast line, stopped at Gold beach, also not a lot to be seen with the same reasons, and arrived in Arromanches, where one of the two artificial harbors were built after D-Day. The remains of that harbor, Port Winston, are still visible.
In Arromanches, there's one of the many museums in the region, but didn't go inside. On the outside you can see a very well preserved landing craft.
American RV meets Europeans.
On the road again, following the coast line, or at least staying as close as possible to it.
The German part of the trip.
A few miles further, we arrived at the battery of Longues-sur-mer, which is only one of the many "batteries" the Germans had along the European coast line. The battery at Longues-sur-mer is not a park where you pay to get in, nor is it a museum. It's between a public road and the beach and you’re free to walk through the area. The bunkers are well preserved and you can even go inside. Well, the not bombed ones that is.
Fortunately it’s safe to walk in front of the bunkers nowadays.
After that walk in the cold, it’s time to go back inside for a coffee with this view from our kitchen window. Can’t really call that enjoying the view…
From the bunkers, on the other hand, they had “great” views:
While driving away, the GPS sent us along the bunkers again and jumped out of the truck again to take one last picture.
After that, we were going to visit the Canadian cemetery. That’s the first time during the trip that we get a more real feeling of what happened, because while only watching the beaches and bunkers, doesn’t say that much.
It might be important to tell you that we live near the coast line in Belgium and that we also have bunkers from East to West. Actually, I played between them when I was little and because of that, bunkers near beaches don’t give me a lot of feelings.
So like I said, we’re going to the Canadian Cemetery. I have to tell you that this place got under my skin! There’s a very specific atmosphere in that place. We walked around, reading names here and there and read some papers, wrapped in plastic, left behind by relatives for others to read and that got to us even more. One of the first grave stones we saw, was from somebody that was born on the same date as I was born and I just had to take a picture of it. Thanks to the papers I talked about, that person came to life for a few minutes.
Now we have the feeling that comes with what we’re actually seeing. To make that even worse, we’re watching “Saving Private Ryan” in the evening, which shows what happened on Omaha like you were there yourself.
In the morning we’re going to the American cemetery, which is overlooking Omaha beach.
What feeling you get there is just not describable, certainly for me because English is not my native language. We already had the death of all these young people under our skin since yesterday, but that was nothing compared to that! All these graves, all these crosses, all these young people… Imagine that if all the crosses were replaced by people, that place would be CROWDED!!! Well, you don’t have to imagine, because every cross IS a person. On one edge of the cemetery you can look down and see the beach where it all happened. Imagine seeing the first part of the movie mentioned, while looking at that beach, then look the other way and see all those graves, then look at the beach again… I get emotional again by reliving this moment while typing this report… It blows your mind away.
A randomly chosen cross from somebody that already died on the first day and maybe even before he got land under his feet. (if that doesn’t get to you…)
After that, we went down to Omaha beach itself, to be able to absorb all we’ve seen. Being there only amplifies the feeling: imagine all these landing crafts arriving there and imagine all these guys being killed at your feet. BTW: it was high tide while we were there. They arrived at low tide, so had to run a lot further over the beach before they could start their climb.
Anyway, we’re going back and start the same climb as they had to do. We didn’t have to watch out for bullets, step over dead friends, carry 90 lbs of stuff and we have stairs, but we had to stop halfway anyway, because we got…tired… (I know, I should eat less and do some sports….)
Next stop: Pointe du Hoc. A place that was bombed just before the landing crafts arrived, one of many bombed places, by the way, but ironically almost all bombs fell next to the bunkers, so most of the bunkers were intact and in use on D-Day. US army Rangers climbed onto the vertical cliffs using ropes and rope ladders while Germans were on top cutting ropes and shooting down. One ranger gets shot, another one goes up the same way. You can still see the bomb craters between the bunkers.
Remember this from the movie “The Longest Day”? We watched the movie when we were back home.
The last stop was Utah beach, where there was very little German resistance. Because of that, just like with the Canadians, there was only little to see. What we did see is a recently restored museum, which was made around a German bunker.
To visit another time: Sword beach and every British part of WWII.
To end with: if we do this trip again, we are not going to make it a full week trip anymore, but more a one day detour trip, because it weighs more onto your emotions than you would expect. With one day you can let it go again, but with a full week, you are immersed into it all and you go down more and more each day. To be remembered for when we visit Auschwitz, which is even worse and maybe we shouldn’t go there because of that…
If you’d know somebody who has been there, please thank him/her in my name.
Trivia: about 1000 miles driven @ 11.65mpg average, 8 days or 7 nights.
The only war a man can be proud of is the war for freedom and that's what happened on D-Day.
Thanks for the report Mark. We also found the cemeteries by the coast very emotional and thankfully very well cared for.
It also reminds you that you cannot go far in Europe without tripping over another battle field, cemetery, castle, ruin, etc. Our part of the world has seen so much conflict over the last couple of thousand years it is easy to forget since we have been peaceful for as long as all but a very few can remember. Of course, you don't have to go far from your home in Belgium to find the sights of the previous war too.
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Your whole post "got under my skin".
My dad wasn't there but was at pearl Harbor on D-day and with MacArthur liberating the Philippines. He was awarded two Bronze stars though I don't know from what actions.
I guess I'll never know. Dad din't talk about the war much except to lament how hard it was on children. The whole experience left him a very sensitive person. I guess I'll never know more, I lost him a few months ago.
Thank you so much for your post.
Scott, Grace and Wesly
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great report. i was able to participate in a ceremony there at that cemetery years ago when i was in the military. you simply can not be moved without emotions when taking in all the sacrifice people gave. it was something ill never forget. thanks for sharing.
We were there last August and had glorious sunny weather but the mood was still somber.
So many giving everything should cause reflection and appreciation, from us who benefited by that ultimate sacrifice.
Our European trip was wonderful yet our visits to some of Europe's many WW1 and WW2 memorials was sobering. So our trip gave us mixed feelings.
Thanks for remembering and honoring all those young men who fell there. My great uncle died on D-day +6 in Normandy. My Father arrived in Germany just after the cessation of the fighting. So many people in this country have forgotten what was done there. Many of us call them "The greatest generation of Americans" for the sacrifices made around the world. The men and women of the free world were called on to stop a scourge enveloping the world so that others could share that freedom and they responded. Our very freedom today is a direct result of their courage and we owe them our undying gratitude and honor. I have never been able to visit and probably never will but if it is anything like the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor I understand. It was a sobering and solemn place.
* This post was
edited 04/24/12 09:51am by fla-gypsy *
Mark_be...Thanks for a great trip report! My Father was also in Germany during WWII. Don't know much more than that because he rarely spoke about it. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for all of those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom! Thanks to all of them!
Great pics and great report!
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