Monday, May 2, 2011

France Trip: Day 2 Omaha Beach

Mulberry Bridge

Memorial on Omaha Beach
After a sleepless night with Misy, we woke up (a relative term) to start the day of history learning. The campsite was located a scant 2 km from the actual beachhead the Americans (my grandfather included) had founded. A short walk across a street and a farmer's field brought us to the cliff which separated Omaha from Juno beach. Looking at the topography led me to realize that there was only a few ways off the beach. Unlike a normal beach where you can drive right up to it and go straight to the water, Omaha is a bunch of cliffs that can only access the beach by way of a very winding roads downward - much akin to a mountain pass. A little studying of old history books and the monuments in the area brought me to realize that the Germans knew about the ways off the beach. On the other beaches, the Germans had to build walls of defences and a lot of artillery; on Omaha they only had to defend the 5 exits from the beach. So they spent the same amount of men and materials on Omaha as the others, but it was much better guarded. The Allied command recognized what the Germans would do and chose not to put a veteran unit on Omaha as a veteran unit would have recognized the danger and refused to fight there. So the Blues and Greys of the 29th Infantry division, a rookie unit, was selected to assault this beach. In the first 30 minutes of fighting on Omaha over 3000 Americans had lost their lives. In a strange twist of fate, we had almost exactly the same number of Scouts and their relatives on this beach (during the 67th anniversary of D-Day). The fighting on Omaha was allegedly the most brutal and bloddy of the whole war.
German Pillbox on hill top

Every five or six years my Grandfather would let slip the occassional single fact of something he was part of during the invasion. Between my Uncle, brother, and myself we have come up with the facts that my Grandfather was a Beachmaster on Omaha beach on June 6. That's not a lot to go on for nearly 20 years of trying to find any facts. This trip and my Grandfather's trip to the same place for the 50th anniversary shet a lot of light on what he did. He was in the 185th Port Company, 487th Batallion which I believe was attached to the 6th NBB of the 5th Special Engineering Brigade. (Angie's notes: I found a book that discusses this Batallion A Moment in History: The Story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944 and a website of an interview with a man in the 185th Port Company Assault on Normandy coast was brutal, unforgettable and here is another site that explains what the Beachmasters did during D-Day WWII Naval Beach Battalion & Beachmaster Unit One). 

The Boy Scouts spent the weekend learning almost as much about the history of Normandy as I did. As part of the typical Boy Scout exercises, the Trans Atlantic Council was asked by the people of Normandy to assist in making Beaches of the Normandy landing a UNESCO's World Heritage site. This is not to say that the landings and sufferings of those many Americans did not make it a place that will be recorded in history forever, by making the beaches a UNESCO's World Heritage site the world can recognize and perserve its significance. We spelled out the words "Normandie Land of Liberty 2012" so a helicopter could take some pictures. Organizing 3000 boys aged 5 to 18 and all their relatives had to have been a daunting task, but the pictures show the proof that it was done. 

Messages in the sand from other
scouts saying things such as
"You will never be forgotten"
When we were done with the fun on the beach our troop took a stroll to the American Cemetery in Normandy. This is the only cemetery in the world where American soliders lay interned on foreign soil. It is an awe inspiring place of respect, solitude, and sadness. There was 9,238 alabaster white crosses, Star of David, and Buddhist symbols all lined up in neat and orderly military rows. Each a stark reminder of what the ultimate sacrifice for Freedom really means. Not a single boy in our scout unit played war or discussed the latest strategy for beating [insert name of latest XBOX or PS3 game]. This was a first in my memory for Boy Scouts. I have never seen so many boys actually focused on the same non-electronic thing before. They were reverent and solemn the entire time. It made the cemetery even more eerie, but I was so proud of them.

Thatched Roof house w/American Flag
Misty did not sleep much during the night, but she woke up with a new tooth. While the days events went off pretty good for a Boy Scout functions, overall the day was exhausting. I could go on about what the scouts did, but Ray clearly gave a full report. My day pretty much was spent chasing Misty. I did enjoy and appreciate the whole Normandy D-Day invasion. It is amazing our troops where abile to take control of this area. The beach and landscape being so challenging, and the Germans shooting at them from every direction.Ray enjoyed seeing what his grandfather went through. He ha a better appreciation for him and a better understanding of what he did on D-Day.

Warning: This page contains so much awesome you may explode or implode. 

Lexi and her friends having fun
Burr! Last night was cold. We just had scrambled eggs but no the way you would normally cook them. We cooked them by: putting eggs (not cooked) in a plastic bag, adding milk to the plastic bag, and boiling it in a pot. Now we get to go on a hike on the beach, awesome right. I am going with Maddy (we have to have a buddy and I thought Maddy would be a good buddy). Maddy saw one of her friends Sara and I saw Abi. We all went on the beach after lunch and played on the beach. We built an awesome memorial out of sand. We built it on Omaha beach although it got distoryed by one of the boys. Then me and Abi had to go and make letters in the sand. Then when I left I was on TV, French TV! Then Abi and I found Sara and Maddy. They said they built a bridge you could walk over and they hit water so it was like a real bridge. Then they said they really dug deep in our sand castle and hit water so it had a moat. Then we had to leave for a memorial service (we just went to the museum, same with everyone else). Then we went back to camp after dinner we had marshmallows and smores. Since my dad went to a camp fir thing (most people did) so we got to stay up till 10-ish. That day was fun, even though that night was cold.
We stood in some letters spelling: Normandie Land of Liberty. Also we did a ceremony in the letters. 

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