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Visit to Normandy

By Jay Baimel

The 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy will be on June 6th next year. Time has not forgotten that venerable sight as visitors descend every year to witness the rising walls of Omaha Beach and to pay homage to the brave Allied soldiers whose efforts changed the course of 20th century history.

We boarded a bus recently from our cruise ship in Le Havre and settled in for a two hour ride to Normandy. When we arrived at Omaha Beach the soft wind of a mild October day belied the horror and death that occurred there over 79 years ago. Only after we saw the Axis bunkers high on the hill did we realize the overwhelming odds against this invasion being successful. It was a turkey shoot, pitting thousands of troops from their late teens into their 20’s coming onto the beach from visible amphibious tanks and ordered to scale those exposed walls. Almost 4,400 Allied forces succumbed right there on that day. In the ensuing Battle of Normandy, 73,000 Allied soldiers were killed and 153,000 wounded. The cinematic presentation in the first half hour of “Saving Private Ryan” conceivably understates the futility these warriors imagined in the face of their impending demise.

We then stopped at the American Cemetery where over 9,300 veterans are interred. Death does not discriminate and the rows of Christian crosses were interrupted by periodic Stars of David. The solemnity of the grounds gave us renewed pause to honor the fallen who gave their lives so that future generations could live in a democracy.

Our final destination was in Arromanches, a small village at Gold Beach where Churchill strategically had ordered the assembly of a harbor months before the planned invasion to store munitions and war supplies. The D-Day museum there housed photographs and audio of actual combatants and the realities of war were on full display.

I learned two major facts that day. The storied invasion campaign that began on June 6, 1944 actually continued until the end of July, 1944, some 1½ months later. Secondly, British and Canadian soldiers comprised greater than 50% of the total Allied force landing on D-Day and their memories are enshrined in separate cemeteries nearby.

The legacy of D-Day and Normandy is powerfully enduring and citizens of a free country always give grace to those who served. I purchased an extra souvenir Normandy hat for my friend Gene. He told me that recently he strolled in the Boca Town Center with his hat on and a passerby came up to him and said “Thank you for your service”. Gene smiled.

My friend Gene was born in May, 1944, less than one month before the invasion date.

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