I’m skipping over yesterday and heading right into today: June 6, 2014.
It’s about 3:25 pm here and we just left the American Cemetery at Colleville. Thing is, we arrived there before 8 this morning.
And we got up at 4:30 so we could leave the hotel at 5:30 so we could get our security clearance credentials so we could get to the ceremony on time.
We did, particularly since the show didn’t start til10:45.
On the way, massive security in place everywhere. Roads closed all across Normandy. Police, soldiers, roadblocks, bomb sniffing dogs, paratroops of our 82nd Airborne Division.
We were pulled into a checkpoint; passports scanned, bus thoroughly vetted. Funny incident: the dogs were checking the underneath luggage holds…..they run right on in and start sniffing all around. The one checking
our bus started barking. Soldiers came racing over, gendarmes yelling real loud in French. Bus driver and guide have no idea what’s going on. Concerned looks are exchanged. Lots of Frenchness exploding.
Finally, we stand down from red alert. Turns out the dog got a whiff of our lunches, secured in a cooler in the hold.
Meanwhile, we sat. Sat some more. Then trickled our way to Colleville.
Where we went through more security and sat some more.
It was great to see how proud those old warriors were, waiting for the Presidents of France and the United States. Frail, some of them, sitting in wheelchairs, accompanied by children, grandchildren…even great grandchildren. Wearing their uniforms from back in the day….or maybe part of a uniform. And their medals, all shined up and in rows across their chests.
So hard to imagine them as cocky young guys barely in their twenties…..many younger…..who took on such an enormous task.
The local people of France were there, too, to greet them and to offer sincere gratitude for the privilege to be born in a free country.
In the crowd were some Comanche Code Talkers. What an honor to see them. Their contribution to the war was incredible. Only the USA has people who can use their unwritten native language to confound the enemy. (See my later post on the Comanche Code Talkers.)
I don’t recall much about the speeches from the presidents. President Hollande spoke with much passion; President Obama spoke longer but it wasn’t a bad speech. Just not memorable.
The Presidents placed this wreath, with assistance from the veterans.
French Marines helping with crowd control.
Eventually, the event was over and we were cleared to leave the cemetery. Unfortunately, this is where chaos erupted.
Considering how smooth the logistics went on getting TO the ceremony, getting FROM the ceremony was just horrendous. No one knew what to do. Who should go where. To get on which bus. That would, or might, be going where you wanted to go. The gendarmes had made all the buses clear out to a holding area five kilometers away. But letting them return over those secured roads…well, that’s gonna take some time.
I attended the 50th Anniversary of D-Day Ceremonies in 1994, with my dad, my son and my sister. Things then were even worse, actually, so while I wasn’t particularly surprised, I did think that things might have been ironed out a little better after twenty years.
We had all been separated at the ceremony, so there were people from our tour wandering around the parking lots searching for familiar faces. Any faces. We were really, really hungry…it was past noon and we’d been on the road since O Dark Hundred that morning. We wanted those lunches that had been ok’ed by the sniffing dog. Tempers frayed, faces broiled in the sun, we were worried about our older companions. The guide contacted the driver but the gendarmes wouldn’t let the bus through back to the cemetery.
We sat. We shared water and some kind of Army rations ( don’t do this) with guys from the 82nd. Who also were stuck. I am very patient particularly when there’s nothing else to be done. But we were all just so tired….
We are still not sure how we managed it, but at long LONG last, the driver called and said, “J’arrive!” I am here!
So as I said, we started the trudge back to our hotel almost three and a half hours after the presidents’ departure let us free. Well, it sure was a memorable experience.
Back at the hotel, everyone who was able showed up at the bar for a replay. More chaos, but much more congenial!
A contingent of Brits were staying, including the Command Sergeant Major of the Irish Rangers. He was telling us how he’d been chatting with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall while having a break in the British events at Arromanches. I’m pretty sure that’s what he was saying. He had a really, really thick accent….I did a lot of smiling and nodding while he talked.
I think we may have become engaged at one point. Not sure.
The Boys From Philly (oh, I haven’t mentioned them yet? Much more about them coming soon!) held court, and wound up inviting the SGM to the Irish Week celebrations in North Wildwood, New Jersey. But he can’t come in that British uniform. This will be SOME clambake. Those of you who are in the vicinity should go!
I don’t know when the festivities broke up. I just know I wasn’t there because I went to bed and slept the sleep of the innocent. The exhausted innocent.