D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations – We were there!
D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations - a program spread on May-June
D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations were obviously the milestone event of this year 2019 in Normandy.
Impossible to attend all the commemorations that spread over May-June, but we had the immense privilege of attending some during the week of June 6th.
The Cotentin peninsula, where the D-day landings took place, became a gigantic open-air site of celebrations and commemoration. Indeed, each town, village and hamlet paid tribute to the ‘liberators’.
Impossible to mention all the ceremonies, conferences, memory trails, museums, exhibitions, reconstructions of military camps and hospitals, aerial shows, paratroopers drops, unveiling of commemorative plates and monuments, banquets, balls, fireworks etc...
Many inhabitants hung flags on their facades, windows or fences to honour the memory of the soldiers who liberated Normandy 75 years ago.
Many also dressed in clothes of the 1940's, women pushing the detail to reconstruct the hairstyles of the time.
Military vehicles collectors flocked from all over Europe to take part to these celebrations. We encountered hundreds of jeeps, troop transport trucks, motorbikes and even tanks all over the Cotentin roads.
Normandy thanked its liberators, and the celebrations were simply phenomenal!
Official D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations on June 6, 2019
The only regret on June 6th is that the security perimeter was too extensive. It indeed denied access to all the landing beaches from Pegasus Bridge (Bénouville Bridge east of Sword Beach (Ouistreham) to Utah Beach in the west.
The RN13 road, which runs inland and parallel to the beaches, was blocked in both directions.
The reason for this high security measures was the presence of many heads of state and high-ranking guests who attended the official D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations.
Theresa May inaugurated the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-mer. Impossible to attend this official celebration, as the public was not invited.
The US president Donald Trump, and his first lady, as well as the French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife met in Colleville-sur-mer American war Cemetery above Omaha Beach. They headed a magnificent commemoration in the presence of veterans and their families.
All the coastal villages on the landing beaches had busy programs (ceremonies, unveiling of commemorative plaques, shows, etc.).
However, the only way to attend these on June 6th was to be on site before 9am. Access was indeed denied from then until 11pm.
People who had an accommodation in Arromanches were also stranded for the day. They couldn't even reach the other beaches on foot, as these are quite distant from each other!
Security is essential, but the general feeling is that the ceremonies on June 6th were for officials, not for the public (unless you had an invitation).
D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations and events we attended
We had the privilege of attending several events during the week of June 6th. We are delighted to share these special moments with you in this article and the video at the top of the page.
On June 6th we attended an air show organised by the US Air Forces at Lessay, an airfield built by the 830th Engineer Aviation Battalion. There were of course vintage aircrafts, but also the reconstitution of a military camp with vehicles, equipment and soldiers.
Arromanches - Gold Beach
On June 7th we were finally able to go to Arromanches (Gold Beach and the vestiges of the Mulberry Harbour).
The air show scheduled early afternoon was canceled because of bad weather, but the ambiance in town was amazing. Many soldiers, veterans, their families and the public gathered in front of the many commemorative wreaths placed in front of the D-Day Museum. Countless military vehicles were exhibited in the square and an amphibious vehicle took passengers to sea.
Most towns and villages had placed panels on electric poles with the photo of soldiers killed during the landings.
In Arromanches, we found a wreath of poppies laid by the two children and family of one of these WWII Heroes.
Here is the dedication they wrote: "Remembering our Dad - Albert Potterton - You are always our Hero - All our Love - Ian, Martha and Family xx " in Remembrance
Ver-sur-Mer - Gold Beach
The ceremonies of June 6th unfolded under a blue sky. Alas the weather changed in the night and June 7th was a grey day, but this didn't deter us from visiting more sites.
Theresa May therefore inaugurated the British Normandy Memorial under the sun of Normandy.
The 'first stone' of this memorial park was a sculptural group representing three English soldiers on Gold Beach. The realism of their faces is so stunning that you would expect them to jump off their pedestal at any time.
We took pictures of the wreaths the English PM and the French president laid at the memorial.
Bernières-sur-mer - Juno Beach
Bernières held an exhibition of military vehicles and equipment in the car parks close to the tourist board.
Villa Cassine, the first house liberated in Bernières, was adorned with a multitude of Canadian flags. The Canadian House of Remembrance faces the beach where the Canadian Queen's Own Rifles landed and where so many lost their lives. Their memorial was of course crumbling under commemorative wreaths.
Families of veterans, but also the public, placed Canadian flags in the sand and more flags and candles along the house’s wall.
Tall poles bearing Canadian flags delineated the breach where the Canadians launched the assault.
Canadian War Cemetery in Bény-sur-Mer
Canadian soldiers who died during the assault on Juno Beach were buried in the cemetery of Bény-sur-Mer, inland. Many wreaths were placed at the foot of the war memorial and visitors wandered among the gravestones despite the rain.
La Cambe German War Cemetery
Many Allies lost their lives on Gold and Juno, but many Germans too. The latter, whose average age was around 20, were buried at the Cimetière de La Cambe.
Bunches of white flowers had been placed on their tombs and memorial wreaths at the foot of the central cairn, which shelters the bodies of unknown German soldiers.
The theme of the cemetery’s landscape is Peace and Reconciliation.
Colleville-sur-Mer American War Cemetery - Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach was the deadliest landing beach. All the young American soldiers who were mown on the beach by the German machine guns or drowned before even reaching the beach were buried in Colleville.
This cemetery is therefore very moving, as gravestones show as far as the eye can see!
We went on June 7th, the day after the ceremony led by Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron. The stage and facilities for the families of veterans were still in place. It was pretty impressive and we really felt as if witnessing history.
There were many Americans who had made the trip to visit a parent's grave, or just to pay tribute to those young soldiers who died 75 years ago.
Among the many wreaths, I noticed one that had been laid by the sister of a soldier. She had left a photo of her in front of the picture of her brother taken before he left for Normandy.
We were also told that D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations were for some people the opportunity to visit their relative’s grave for the first time!
As we took photos, three military aircrafts flew over the cemetery.
Pointe du Hoc - Omaha Beach
Our next step was La Pointe du Hoc, where the Germans had installed an important battery.The American Rangers climbed the steep cliff of this promontory and neutralised it. Many alas died during this ascent.
France erected a memorial to the US Rangers above a bunker under which many German soldiers still lie.
The World Peace statue in Grandcamp-Maisy marks the town entrance. Two wreaths were laid side by side at its foot. One from the municipality, the second from a Chinese delegation. This statue was indeed a gift of the Chinese artist Yao Yuan to commemorate the US Rangers' heroic assault at La Pointe du Hoc.
In town, a group of 4 military bag-pipers were playing for the public, while soldiers were displaying amphibious vehicles on the beach.
A historical gathering presenting the Army of yesterday and today, Utah Memory Field, was set up from 4th to 9th June.
Various events and exhibitions about the landing on Utah and the progress of operations in the days that followed completed it.
Some changes occurred since our last visit to Utah Beach, 6 years ago.
Milestone 00 - Borne 00, which stood by the entrance to breach where Roosevelt and his men landed, now stands by the entrance to the site.
A sculptural group representing soldiers disembarking from a Higgins Boat took its place. This is another very realistic sculpture!
The other change was the 'Utah Beach' sign, which is now on the other side of the breach.
A sculpture representing Higgins, the creator of the boats that bear his name, now stands in its place.
Commemorative wreaths were laid at the foot of each memorial and monument . This includes of course the memorial to the sailors who lost their lives during Operation Neptune and the Eisenhower Way plate.
Once again small American flags were placed in the sand to pay tribute to the men who landed on Utah 75 years ago.
Monument to the Danish sailors
More wreaths at the foot of the monument dedicated to the 800 Danish sailors who took part in D-Day. This monument, along the road to Utah Beach, represents a sailor from the Danish merchant marine.
Monument dedicated to Major Richard D. Winters
Another monument was erected along the road to Utah since our last visit, 6 years ago. This monument pays tribute to Major Richard D. Walters and all the young American officers who landed on D-Day.
Paratroopers drops at La Fière - June 9th, 2019
One of the most awaited events of these ceremonies was undoubtedly the drops of 1200 paratroopers over the Merderet marshes at La Fière, near Sainte-Mère l'Eglise. This is the site where in the night of June 5th to 6th 1944, the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were dropped. Tragically many were shot in descent by the Germans and drowned under the weight of their equipment.
No sun that day, but the clouds didn’t prevent the drops.
This airshow began around 10am when six C47 Dakotas dropped 110 paratroopers in period uniforms.
At 11am the Patrouille de France offered us 20 minutes of breathtaking show!
At noon, 24 military transport planes, escorted by American F15 fighter planes, dropped 1,200 US, British, Romanian, Belgian, Dutch and German military over La Fière marshes.
Each transport plane dropped 12 paratroopers. Their parachutes open one after another and filled the whole sky.
It was very moving and breathtaking, once more a show that brought tears to the eyes of the 120000 visitors that were expected at La Fière.
The atmosphere was just as exceptional on the ground; soldiers, veterans in uniform proudly showing off their medals, civilians in period costume and simple onlookers applauded in unison at each drop while a small band marched through entertained us.
A second drop of 110 paratroopers, in period uniforms, took place at 2.30pm, before the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for Gal Gavin, whose foxhole is still visible at the edge of the road.
The paratroopers then marched towards Sainte-Mère for a grand parade that included 100 original military vehicles (including 9 tanks) transporting 40 veterans.
Sainte-Mère ended this magnificent day at 11pm with a grand firework display.
Commemorative wreaths were also laid at the foot of the C. Deglopper Monument in La Fière, along the causeway road that is now known as Marcus Heim Way.
Carentan les Marais
Camp Arizona opened to the public from June 6th to 10th. Nearly 500 participants and 200 civilian and military vehicles were put on display to show how an American military camp looked like in 1944.
From 1st to 10th June, the Currahee Commemo Airborne Group set up the 10th Old Abe Camp which allowed visitors to experience the daily lives of soldiers in trenches, foxholes and mortar positions during the war.
As I wrote above, we couldn’t attend all events, but those we attended left us with exceptional memories. It was a privilege to witness some of D-Day 75th Anniversary Commemorations and meet so many veterans.
Thank you gentlemen!
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