I expect most American military veterans dream of going to the annual celebration of one of the most epic battles in history, the Allied invasion of Normandy to liberate France and defeat the Nazi regime. For me, this trip was proof that I am the luckiest man alive since it involved me jumping into Normandy to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of this event. Better to be lucky than good is my motto!
The trip to Paris from IAD on United was nothing special, so I will skip that. From CDG, we drove to Normandy and there is no easy way to get there. The recent flooding in Paris meant it took us an hour just to get out of the city. Plus, there are no big highways going to Normandy, so in all it took us about 4 hours.
We stayed at the Hotel Le Sainte Mere, which was the French equivalent of a two star roadside hotel. Nothing special except the location – five blocks from downtown Sainte-Mere-Eglise. More on that in tomorrow’s post.
Our first day involved a commemoration ceremony at Carentan. We started at the site of the “Cabbage Patch”. This was an epic battle between the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division and the 2nd Fallschimjager (German airborne). This battle of Carentan was finally settled by a hand grenade and bayonet charge by the American paratroopers at great cost. Read about the battle here.
At the ceremony, the French Government awarded several of the American veterans and one French Resistance veteran the Legion of Merit. It was amazing to see the veterans, most of whom are in their 90s. You really get perspective when you realize that there won’t be many of these veterans left soon. I should note that we had representatives from all the Allied nations plus German Soldiers. Some might think it strange to have Germans at a ceremony like this, but what better way to demonstrate that we will never fight each other again than to be unified in commemoration. After laying wreaths and a flyover by four C-130s, we then marched through the center of town with bands playing. It was pretty cool and almost every structure in the town remains just as they were in World War Two.
All the Soldiers were hosted at a big dinner put on by the town and it was a great time. Notably my troops were mixed in with the other nationalities so they could have a great cultural exchange and make some unique friendships. I have to say that we were all amazed at the enthusiasm of the French locals. They have truly not forgotten what happened 72 years ago. All were very friendly and turned out for the parades and ceremonies. I wish our American kids knew this much about D-Day.