A Window into Hell

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, shrouded in fog. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Saturday, October 14, 2017
The fog stayed with us all day today, as guests aboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire set out for a full-day tour to the D-Day Landing sites in France’s Normandy region.
On June 6, 1944, at six thirty in the morning, the Allies launched a major offensive along the coast of Normandy. Their goal: to capture the beach and drive the Nazis out of France. Soldiers from Great Britain, Canada and the United States – along with troops from as far away as Greece – stormed the beaches, code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah – at dawn.

We departed Tauck’s ms Sapphire early this morning…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…bound for a full-day tour of the D-Day landing sites on the Normandy coast. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

By the end of the day, the Allied forces had succeeded in capturing much of the Norman coast from the Germans. But the loss of life was tremendous. Out of 156,000 British, Canadian and American forces, over 10,000 men and women lost their lives. The exact numbers will never be known. Some soldiers were swept out to sea. Others, dragged down by gear that weighed 45 pounds, drowned in deep water or swampy marshes that had been flooded by the Germans.
When troops came ashore, they had to run along the beach, sinking into the sand under the weight of their gear, dodging fire from German troops. As far back as 1942, the Germans – under the direction of the original “Desert Fox”, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, had been fortifying the beach with bunkers, hidden anti-aircraft guns, and special weapons that could unleash 1,200 rounds per minute on anything – and anyone – in their path.

The beaches of Normandy, near Arromanches, France. A steel “spud” pier section, installed by the Allies and left on the beach, is in the background. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Located on Gold Beach, troops had to construct special docks and mooring anchorages in order to successfully secure the beach. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Looking back towards Arromanches from Gold Beach. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

“Gold” Beach in better times, before World War II. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Many guests onboard Tauck’s Rendezvous on the Seine river cruise have come here for this day. To see the beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. You’ve probably seen it before, too. It features prominently in the opening and closing scenes of the 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, which features a tough-to-watch 30-minute opening sequence that details the invasion of Normandy on Omaha beach.
Nine thousand three-hundred and eighty-seven Americans are buried here. Three hundred and seven of those are unknown burials. One hundred and forty-nine are marked by the Star of David. Nine thousand two hundred and thirty-eight are marked by Latin crosses.
I’m spelling those out in full because numbers alone cannot do the human cost justice. In the fog, walking alone, the crosses keep emerging from the mist. Row, after row, after row. I find myself in a sea of white crosses, their end obscured in all directions by the mist. Something catches in my t

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