Tuesday, 04 June 2019 22:16

Dispatches from Normandy Part I: Surreal beach run at the site of the D-Day invasion

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A view of Utah Beach, Normandy, France. A view of Utah Beach, Normandy, France. Photos by Jon Ring

Woke up this morning as it got light(er) than it was during the night. Adjusting to the time here — it was 1 a.m. in Richmond County, but 7 a.m. in France. I got my PT shoes on and headed out for a run (not as fast as I once was, but I still call it running) up Utah Beach. It was surreal. 


The tide was out as I took off — just like it was on D-Day as three initial waves of landing craft came ashore. I thought of all the fortifications that had been along the beaches in 1944. They aren't here any more, but I couldn't help to wonder if all had been removed. After serving for three years in the Korean DMZ, I am well aware of lingering and shifting mines. About the time I was convinced that such thoughts were unnecessary and unreasonable, I stepped on something sharp and cut my foot a bit. Not really any pain while running — and certainly nothing compared to the heroes of '44 — I shook it off and kept running while soaking up the ambiance. 

My mind went to the thousands of American and Allied soldiers who were stationed in the United Kingdom on the 4th of June, 1944. The majority of them did not know that they were within a couple of days of beginning the liberation of Europe. Training and preparations had been underway for months, but the actual timeline was a closely held secret. The young Americans who would land at Normandy represented our entire nation. Every family, neighborhood, community, county, state, and walk of life would jump, glide, or make a beach landing during the next few days. 

Along the beach, there are reminders of '44. I see remnants of pillboxes and firing batteries and fortifications. There are many beach cottages these days and a few houses that were here on the day. I can see where some houses had been destroyed and repaired. Strange and unique contrasts along this stretch of beach. There are people camping — many of them in old U.S. Army Jeeps and trucks and half-tracks — along the public areas of the beach. I think about how the majority of the campers and reenactors who are making their way into Normandy for this anniversary aren't American or French or even British, but Dutch, Swiss, Belgian, and Scandinavians. They remember. I decided that I had run far enough down the beach when my GPS says I had gone nearly three miles and I picked a place to climb the seawall.  Contrast strikes me again as my steps are actually the remnants of a firing position that is overwatched by a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus looking to the sea in hope. 

I run up the sidewalk and back toward the north which is my finish. Poppies are growing in the crack between the sidewalk and front garden wall of several houses. I am mentally transported to Flanders fields. The perfect reminder of all those who have fallen. 

I'll go for another run tomorrow. 

I take a drive around the area to recon the sites that we'll be operating this week. 

One of the mandatory stops is the Iron Mike statue overlooking la Fiere causeway. 

We meet two of General James Gavin's daughters, quite by chance, there. 

This year will see the dedication of a new memorial to the popular former Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. 

The population of Normandy is growing as visitors and tourists and veterans descend on the area. I'll go to Saint Maire Eglise for lunch and to meet some friends. Later this afternoon, all 90 members of the Liberty Jump Team will meet at the Abbey in Montebourg to inspect equipment and conduct manifest call for tomorrow's first jump. The first jump will be at St. Germain de Varreville, which is where the Pathfinders landed prior to the initial airborne invasion of 1944. Fitting, really. 

 

Retired Army Lt. Col Jon Ring, JROTC instructor at Richmond Senior High School, is a member of the Liberty Jump Team and will be participating in events this week commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 June 2019 22:51