We spent an amazing afternoon on Utah Beach Sunday – almost by accident.
In the morning, we toured the cathedral of Coutances and had a nice Sunday lunch before heading off to see the curiosity of the church in Sainte-Mère-Église – the one where the American parachutist was dangling from the church steeple for two hours while the bells tolled incessantly. It is mentioned in the Michelin guide as an interesting side trip on the way to a town famous for its oysters.
What the guide neglected to mentioned is that we would be passing right by Utah Beach, scene of one of the more risky D-Day landings. We of course were planning to go there, but had another separate excursion planned. The poor guy on the church – who survived, by the way – was there on June as part of the behind-the-lines invasion activity. He must have been so proud to know that a dummy hangs from the church in his memory. Plus, this town now has a McDonald’s, which I guess helps commemorate the introduction of Coca-Cola to France on June 6, 1944.
Michelin devotes a paragraph to a possible short tour of Utah Beach, “in the footsteps of the American landings.” Kind of sounds like a bunch of day-trippers coming in to see the sights. At any rate, don’t expect to have the D-Day experience through the eyes of Michelin. But if you are interested in oysters….
Now, onto the beach. This is a very well-preserved and documented site, with a museum built into the dunes. During our U.S. tours, we came away with a real admiration and respect for Eisenhower, and his courage as a soldier. He wrote two letters on the eve of the operation. If it succeeded, the first letter acknowledged all who participated and sacrificed to make it possible. In the event of failure, he accepted full responsibility and expressed his deep regret. Who does that today?
Being there is very moving and makes the horror seem quite real. It was a very long stretch from where the boats emptied to where the barricades began. What courage it must have taken.