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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”