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  • Writer's pictureSally Jameson Bond

D-Day + 29,219



Tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the launching of Operation Overlord during World War II. The entire operation lasted for two months, three weeks, and three days, but more than anything else, most of us remember the first day – D-Day – June 6, 1944. It’s been 29,219 days since almost 133,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen began their invasion of France’s Normandy coast. Many of the Allied participants might not have realized it at the time, but they were all a part of the largest amphibious invasion in military history. I blogged about D-Day three years ago. If you missed it, scroll down to June 9, 2021 when you’re done here. I’ll try a slightly different angle today.




Before they flew over or sailed on the English Channel early that morning, a few of those 133,000 brave men were greeted by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The General hoped that all the participants would see a copy of his “Order of the Day” before they left England. Perhaps some heard it read aloud by a superior officer or someone else in their unit. (Also, General Eisenhower recorded the Order on May 28th, and it was broadcast on British and American radio on D-Day.) In my research, I found both a draft of the Order and the final version. I have always found the General’s words very appropriate and moving, considering what they were facing in the next hours and days and weeks. We should always remember. We will never forget.




 

Years before I had an inkling that I would write a novel that takes place during World War II, my husband Joe and I explored Normandy twice. Three years ago, I wrote about our first visit in May 1996. (See my July 7, 2021 blog, “Saint-Lô.”) Our second visit, in May 2001, was similar but different. That time we had a companion along for the ride—my brother Chris—and Joe and I enjoyed sharing some of what we had already experienced five years earlier. And as expected, we found new spaces to explore together.


After an overnight train carried us from Berlin to Paris, we rented a car and drove north and west to Arromanches. Rick Steves (our “travel guru”) suggested we find a room at the Hotel de la Marine. It’s right on the beach, so we were very pleased they had a seaside room on the top floor waiting just for us. Thanks to the generosity of our parents, our delicious dinner in the hotel’s dining room that evening was covered. When we walked outside, completely sated, we saw this.



 


The next day was full for the three of us. Before we left Arromanches, we checked out the Musee du Debarquement where, among other things, we learned about the planning, building, and use of the artificial harbors that made it possible to offload troops and critical supplies for the Normandy invasion. Heading west, we investigated still-in-place German bunkers, gun batteries, and observation posts. The American Cemetery above Omaha Beach is beautiful—peaceful, perfectly manicured, hallowed ground. We drove down to the beach before continuing our journey west to Pointe du Hoc.



Our next destination was Sainte-Mère-Église, but on the way we saw a sign pointing to a German cemetery. Our curiosity was piqued, so we found it. The difference between the German and American cemeteries was striking, but visiting both caused us to pause and reflect and consider the loss that was felt on both sides of the conflict.


One of the many critical missions of the D-Day landings occurred at the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Units from both the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped in the early morning hours of June 6th. They suffered heavy casualties due in part to several of the town’s buildings catching fire. The night sky was illuminated, and the falling paratroopers were easy targets. Others were killed by the fires or shot as they hung from utility poles or trees.


Chris had planned to sail on a P&O ferry to England from Cherbourg early the next day, so we spent our last night together in Cherbourg. It had been a glorious eleven days as we traveled together through Sweden and Germany and France. I am pleased to report that Chris has returned to the UK several times since 2001. We did our best to make sure he was also infected by “the travel bug.”


 



Tomorrow Joe and will travel east to attend the National D-Day Memorial’s 80th Anniversary commemoration. They expect a big crowd, so we’ll leave earlier than usual and find a parking spot in one of their satellite lots. We’ll return Friday evening for a first-of-its-kind multi-media sensory display they’re calling “When We Went In.” (The event will be repeated Saturday night; tickets are required both evenings.) The program was created exclusively for the Memorial by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Prior to the sound and light show, we’ll be entertained by the West Point Alumni Glee Club.




 


Have you seen The Longest Day? If not, this would be a great week to watch that movie (or watch it again if it’s been a while). Premiered just eighteen years after D-Day, it is based on Cornelius Ryan’s (non-fiction) book of the same name. Most of you will know many of the stars—John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, and Robert Wagner, among others. Several cast members (including American, British, French, and German actors) served during World War II, and one, Richard Todd, was the first Irishman to parachute into Normandy. His unit was involved in the capture of the Pegasus Bridge (which we visited in 2001). During that action, he met Major John Howard, and he later played the role of John Howard in The Longest Day.


If many of the scenes look authentic, they should. The film was shot at several French locations, including Pegasus Bridge near Bénouville, Sainte-Mère Église, and Pointe du Hoc. It was nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Picture), winning two (Best Cinematography—Black and White and Best Special Effects).



 


I discovered the photo at the top of this page on Pixabay, my go-to online source for many of the (free) images I use for my blogs. Initially, I didn’t pay attention to the names on the crosses, but as I was putting the finishing touches on this one, I did. Take another look now. You’ll see one with a gold star (I added that). It marks the grave of Technician Fourth Grade Lawrence L. Wilfawn who died on July 21, 1944. I hope you can see that Tech 4 Wilfawn was from Iowa. A Google search told me he was from Moulton (population 599 in 2022). I was born and raised in Iowa, but that town was unknown to me, so imagine my surprise when I discovered it’s in Appanoose County, just thirty-seven miles southwest of Ottumwa, my hometown. I’m quite sure I have never heard the surname Wilfawn. Mr. Google isn’t as quick to share the origin of that name. Can anyone clue me in?


Many blessings to all.


--Sally


 

Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in southwest Virginia with her husband Joe and their rescue dog Bart. She is the author of My Mother’s Friend and My Mother’s Son. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.













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