An early start and long day awaited us as we boarded the bus for two-hour ride to Omaha Beach, one of the “landing sites, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
The overwhelming beauty of the French countryside was apparent through the bus windows as the bus made its way westward. Dairy farms, pastures with beef cattle (Charlois), and recently harvested corn and beet fields among the gently rolling hills reminded us of the Ozark foothills. Fall was in the air with cool temperatures and leaf color was at its peak.
The tour included four stops. First was Arromanches, near the middle of where Canadian and British forces came ashore, respectively Juno and Gold Beaches, where we toured a small museum, and observed the beaches still strewn with floating, British-built concrete breakwaters (sunk when floated into place) and floating bridges strung together to create single lane “roads” from ships to the shore. The second stop was at an array of German gun bunkers high on a bluff overlooking the beach. Many of the bunkers are still intact. After lunch at a local hotel, the third stop was at the Normandy American Cemetery where the remains of 9,400 American service men and women are interred; in addition, over 1500 are still missing. Viking arranged for a solemn dedication ceremony at the cemetery and monument, and veterans in our group placed a wreath at the foot of the Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves sculpture. (Average age of the Americans interred there was 23.) Lastly, we walked Obama beach—impossible not to think of bodies virtually covering the beach as far as one’s eye could see.
After a long two hour ride back to the ship, we were greeted with a cup of rum-infused hot chocolate.