Deeply saddened, yet feeling profoundly patriotic, Barry and I were able to visit Arronmaches-les-bain, The American Cemetery and Omaha Beach. We are staying in a modest hotel just a block from the coast where the British build an artificial harbor during the D Day invastion, in just a matter of days, complete with long pontoon roadways to bring a steady of supplies to the forces that landed on D Day. The planning and engineering involved in this feat is, really, beyond my imagination. There are still remnants of the complex quite visible. A small museum there features the scope of this project.
Interesting info: On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed on five different beaches along the Normandy coast. TO the west of Arronmaches were the two American beaches, Omaha and Utah. The Allies knew they would need a port to keep supplies flowing to the forces and they were unable to seize any German occupied harbor which already existed. As a result, on June 5th the first convoys left England and construction of the harbor began on June 7th. A line of old merchant ships were sunk to make an outer breakwater, then 115 huge concrete boxes formed a protective sea wall in an the length of 700 football fields. Three landing wharves were installed to unload supplies, extending up to 750 m out into the bay. They were floating causeways on which heavy cranes, tanks, trucks and bulldozers could drive from ships to shore, keeping the supply line moving . Additionally, the harbor was fortified with artillery, helium filled barrage balloons floated at different altitudes to prevent enemy planes from attaching, AND artificial fog was created every night to hide the lights of the harbor. The harbor operated night and day.
Omaha Beach now has wind surfers crossing where thousands of Americans fell during a previous generation. As we looked at the folks at the beach, there appeared to be no one there who could have remembered the day that the invasion took place. Yet, I felt there was a a feeling of resect and deep gratitude. The American Cemetery has a really wonderful museum which focuses on the ultimate sacrifice made by inconceivable number of Americans, and the cemetery itself, with rows and rows of tombstones overlooking the now breathtakingly beautiful beaches, tears at my heart.
I talked of my dad, who served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific and have a new renewed appreciation for how remarkable it must have been to leave a semi-rural existence in Pennsylvania and enter into what many of the quotes in the museum describe as “hell” and “Dantes inferno”, this in his early twenties! I love you, Dad! At aged 91, he still has rarely spoken much of the war at all.
On our way back to the hotel, and maybe to “buck-up” we turned into farm advertising tastings for cidre and calvados. Yes, good stuff. We picked up a small bottle of calvados, apple liquer (which has no apple taste) and hard cider with a low alcohol content. Though the farmer spoke no English, we were able to broker the deal 🙂 . In no stretch of the imagination can I speak French, but I have been able to get through our dealings SO FAR.
Finally, back at our modest little hotel, where the water runs hot and cold no mater what the dial is set at, and the church RIGHT next door bongs out the hours, we had a really nice meal. The madame is a very good cook, says Christian, the host. He is right. My duck confit was luscious, with an amazing chocolate dessert that they described as mousse, but was a dense, rich chocolate that was thinly sliced and floating in a pool of creme Anglaise. Barry had some local oysters that were sweet, briny, with a whisp of the sea, a steak with unusual pomme frites (French fries) that were semi-circle strips which were sooooo crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. A nice evening after a very serious day.