Remembering Normandy: 70th Anniversary of D-Day

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By Roswell Encina

Marking the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, France, The National WWII Museum is hosting an exclusive, educational travel program aboard Silversea Cruises’ luxurious Silver Cloud cruise ship.

Normandy anniversary


On board the cruise is Pratt Library Board member Bob Hillman. During the “70th
Anniversary of D-Day Cruise” Bob will be making special blog posts from the ship during this one in a lifetime journey. The 10-day trip will feature an elite group of renowned historians: Award-winning journalist and best-selling author, Tom Brokaw; Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author, Rick Atkinson; best-selling WWII author, Dr. Donald L. Miller; historian and author, Dr. Robert M. Citino; Phil Reed, founder of the Churchill Museum, London; Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, president and CEO of The National WWII Museum and Dr. Keith Huxen, the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Director of Research and History at The National WWII Museum.


Here are Bob's posts from the trip:

May 30, 2014:
We began our Normandy odyssey today in Lisbon where over 1500 British, German and Italian agents operated during WWII. Many later literary stars filled the British ranks of schemers and saboteurs. Grahame Greene, Malcolm Muggeridge and Ian Fleming all played roulette at the Casino Estoril, which later served as the inspiration for James Bond and Casino Royale. The era was brought to life by author Neill Lochery whose book,  Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light was released this year.

As I write we are churning thru a bumpy Atlantic on our way north to France. Rick Atkinson, author of The Liberation Trilogy speaks tomorrow.

May 31, 2014
On this, our only full day at sea, we heard talks by two historians about the greater context of WWII, in which D Day becomes a linchpin event.

Rob Citino, an expert on the German armed forces, spoke about Hitler's strategic mistake: precipitating a world war without the resources to do so, especially in the air and sea. By the time of the Normandy landing his hubris put Germany on the defensive.

Our second speaker was Rick Atkinson. Many will remember his riveting talk at the Pratt last fall. Rick set out the reasons we continue to be fascinated by WWII, 70 years later: one, the magnitude of the conflict; 60 million dead -- one every three seconds of the war; over 16 million Americans in uniform. Two, the moral certainty: "an existential struggle decisively ended."And finally, the consequences:from a fundamental change in the world's power structure to the first stirrings of racial and gender equality in an American setting. His forceful presentation was emotionally punctuated by the words of a WW2 veteran who tearfully recalled that all of them were committed to the fight and to each other.

291,000 Americans were killed in World War II. Atkinson ended by saying, " our first duty is to remember . . . We have the cause of the dead in trust ." There was hardly a dry eye in the house. 

SUBMERGED (Saturday, May 31, 2014)

Suppressing the German U-boat threat in the Atlantic was a necessary step to the success of Operation Overlord.  There could be no landing at Normandy unless the convoys carrying men and materials could reach England.

Today we learned about the U-boat operation in a visit to the indestructible German sub pens at St. Nazaire, France.  This fortress with a 30-foot thick reinforced concrete roof, which even today’s bombs could not penetrate, was built in one year with conscripted labor, mostly Polish prisoners.

A great privilege of this trip is to be with six WWII veterans.  Tonight they told us about their service, all with humor and humility.  We are blessed by their courage and dedication.

St. Nazaire was the scene of a daring British commando raid in 1942 which resulted in partial success, but with the cost of over 200 British lives.

In a truly touching moment we visited the Commonwealth cemetery where these dead are interred.  Representatives of the local French community thanked the British and Americans for liberating their country and five WWII veterans, who are traveling with us, laid a wreath on a monument to the fallen of both World Wars.


OCCUPATION (Sunday, June 1, 2014)

The island Bailiwick of Guernsey maintains a proud independence along with a loyalty to the British crown.  Closer to France than to England, the Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans from 1940 to 1945.  Before the German invasion, half the inhabitants (about 17,000, mostly children) were evacuated.  Hitler fortified the island with bunkers and gun emplacements built by slave labor, making it part of his Atlantic wall.

Today several of the now octogenarian children, some who were evacuated, some who stayed and one Jewish child who was deported to Germany and spent three years in a concentration camp, shared their wartime experiences with us.  Most impressive was their coming to terms with their feelings towards the Germans, who were often kind to the children while keeping the adult islanders under strict rule and near starvation conditions.
Guernsey pic 

PLAN AHEAD (Tuesday, June 3, 2014)

Great enterprises require brilliant planners and clever plans.  Today we visited Southwick, on the heights above Portsmouth England, and sat in the room where Eisenhower and his staff formed the final design for Operation Neptune (the naval movements) and Operation Overlord.

On the wall was the actual map used on D-Day, made out of plywood by a toy manufacturer who specialized in jigsaw puzzles. 

This evening Tom Brokaw spoke to us about the “ordinary Americans who became the Greatest Generation.”  He described them as men and women of “modest courage.”

Earlier in the day, we spoke with some British D-Day veterans, who like all the men we have met, are humble and self-deprecating.  One gentleman started crying when one member of our party thanked him for preserving liberty.  This, of course, got me going.  I’m afraid this trip is like that.


June 3, 2014
Sub pens in Saint Nazaire, France
Saint Nazaire 



JUMPING INTO CHAOS (Wednesday, June 4, 2014)

On the night of June 5, paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne dropped into Normandy to secure the crossroads town of Saint-Mere Eglise and the bridge at La Fiere, both of which were behind German lines.  Most were dropped far off target and had to find each other before becoming fighting units.  They did this, in part, with a metal toy that clicked to make the sound of a cricket.

Tom Blakey told us how, at 23, he led his platoon, all of whom were 19 or younger, including five 15-year olds, out of the planes and on the ground and was separated from most of them.  He used his cricket to link up and lead 13 men into battle.  When asked if a German heard the cricket, he said, “Yes, and I shot him.”

Today we try to find how these men summoned up the courage to accomplish what they did.  Click…click…


UTAH TO SWORD (Thursday, June 5, 2014)

Until you experience it, the breadth of the Normandy invasion is hard to comprehend—sixty miles from Utah Beach on the west—to Sword Beach on the east.

This week the entire sixty miles has been invaded by tourists and those tourists who stand out are the re-enactors, thousands of men and women dressed as American GIs, circa 1944, along with hundreds of American WWII vehicles:  jeeps, trucks, half-tracks and olive drab 1944 Chevrolet staff cars and GI equipment.

What amazed us was that almost, to the person, these pretend warriors are Europeans, not Americans.  They are Dutch, French, Belgian and even a few Swiss.  I asked one Belgian, dressed as a sergeant from the 29th Division, “Why do you do this?”  He gave me a one word answer, “Gratitude.”


TAPESTRY (Saturday, June 7, 2014)

We planned a day off from war today and went to see the famous Bayeux tapestry.  It didn’t work out.  The tapestry, which is really an embroidery, is 230 feet long and tells the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066.  This was a cross-channel invasion going the other way.

The 58 scenes constitute one of the great achievements of Norman Romanesque, but ultimately the story is, like the D-Day story, one of destruction and death.  No matter how we glorify war, there is always a “butcher’s bill” paid by the young.
The grateful people of Normandy decorate their homes with American and British flags to express their gratitude to the soldiers that liberated them and all of Europe.
Normandy homes 


MERCI (Sunday, June 8, 2014)

On our final day in Normandy, we went back to Bayeux where there was a parade of over 350 WWII vehicles driven by re-enacters.  The crowd was immense, blocking the streets and making the progress of the jeeps and trucks difficult and dangerous.  I am sure Bayeux’s population of 14,000 was more than quadrupled for the day.

A lasting impression of this D-Day trip is the sincere appreciation the people of Normandy have for what was accomplished in June 1944, even though many French citizens were killed, wounded or left homeless by the Allied bombardment.

We will always remember a moment in Arromanches-les-Bains.  We had just bought coffee in a sidewalk café and were looking for a place to sit.  A middle-aged French woman motioned to us to sit at her table.  Sandy said, “Merci.”  She replied, “Non. Merci a vous.”



Bob, thanks for blogging your journey for us. Would you do me a favor? If you pass by Omaha Beach, please tip your hat to my Dad, 1LT James H. Watts, 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion, Company A, who landed at Omaha Easy Red, H plus 50. He said whether you lived or died that morning was entirely due to luck. He went back for the 40th anniversary, skipped the 50th--too much hoopla--and passed away before the 60th. It was an incredible act of courage for those men to get on those boats that morning. May they rest in peace for eternity.
Posted by: Jackie Watts at 6/3/2014 11:15 a.m.

My grandfather was in the army for the D-day. He told me it was incredible. So I can easily understand why we celebrate the anniversary of that day. Especially after 70 years ! :)
Posted by: hubert( Visit ) at 6/25/2015 8:51 a.m.

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