Below: A horse receives training in the cold water of the English Channel Wednesday. The peaceful scene belied the chaos of that June morning seventy years ago when hundreds of American soldiers and sailors died on this shore. Utah Beach saw far fewer deaths than the slaughter at Omaha Beach, however. Amidst the terrible weather conditions of June 6, 1944, not everything went as planned; and General Theodore Roosevelt III (son of the president who was a Junior), who insisted on leading the troops onto Utah beach that day, quickly realized they were not dropped off at their target. They proceeded anyway and used the location to their advantage. Roosevelt III died of a heart attack the following month and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. We saw his grave later in the day at the Normandy American cemetery next to that of his younger brother Quentin who died in the first world war and whose remains were moved from another cemetery in order to be next to his brother’s.
Below: The church in the village of Sainte-Mère-Église is across the street from the three-building D-Day museum. (There are MANY D-Day museums in Normandy. Guillaume said it would take weeks to see them all.) A paratrooper replica/dummy hangs from the steeple as a reminder of a real paratrooper, John Steele, whose parachute caught on that church during the D-Day invasion. He pretended to be dead while the fighting went on below but eventually freed himself, got caught by the Germans, and then was freed a few weeks later by the Americans. According to Guillaume, Steele was temporarily deafened by the constantly-chiming church bells. The 1962 movie The Longest Day includes this story, but I’ve never seen it.
Below: The flag that was flown over Sainte-Mère-Église when it was liberated.
Below: A wedding dress made from a parachute. Guillaume said his mother’s wedding dress was also made from an American paratrooper’s parachute found in a farm field. He said his mother and others in the area thought the nylon material was actually silk. Regardless, they were thrilled to have the material after years of deprivation.
And a few miles away…
At the Normandy American cemetery which Guillaume says is US soil, a gift from the French. The site is owned and operated by the US and was even closed last year during the US government shutdown.
There are three hundred unknown soldiers buried at the cemetery among the more than 9,000 graves.
About 1.5% of the graves have Stars of David tombstones instead of crosses. Guillaume said that American Jewish soldiers who fought in Europe had non-Jewish names printed on their dog tags and either a “C” or “P” (Catholic or Protestant) listed for religion in case the Germans took them prisoner. The US military records though showed the soldier’s actual name and religion – traceable through their ID number – and therefore allowed the Jewish dead to have a Star of David tombstone and their real name printed on the stone (Italian marble, by the way).
A reflecting pool brings to mind the one in DC. At the end there’s a map of the D-Day landing sites, including the three British (one of which was Canadian) sites – Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches.
Walt Disney’s (D’Isigny) ancestors came from the French town shown on the map below.