Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

65th D-day Celebrations, Normandy

Through a contact at the American Presence Post in Rennes, I was able to get a last-minute invite to the D-day celebrations in Normandy this past weekend. I'd already been planning on going to visit Karina that same day, so the timing was perfect. And so worth catching that early morning train, even though I'd gotten back around 9pm the night before from my work trip.
There were special navettes waiting at the train station to take us to the cemetary. I was expecting security to be a lot stricter than it was, but they just gave us a cursory glance at my invitation and my passport and off we went. Since we weren't supposed to bring any food with, they provided us with a sandwich and a bottle of water on the bus. It was kind of surreal going there since the highways had been closed off and our buses had a special military escort to take us there. Not to mention the numerous police officers stationed basically every kilometer along the route.Upon arrival at the cemetary, we went through a metal-detector and then we were free to roam around the grounds for a few hours until the ceremony started. We made sure to get seats first though, since they were already filled up to about half-way back.There were American and French military personnel everywhere. It's not the first time I've been to the cemetary, but it is still humbling when you see the view again. It's so calm and peaceful now, and you have a hard time imagining all the horrors that took place there so many years ago.
I always try to find a cross with a Minnesota soldier on it while I'm there - unfortunately it's not a very hard thing to do, with almost 10,000 American soliders buried there. As a side note, in a video they showed before the ceremony, they said there were 24 American Cemetaries world-wide, acting as the final resting place of more than 125,000 soldiers.
And then we all took our seats for the ceremony - my camera has a pretty major zoom, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get a clear shot because of all the journalists in front of the podium.There were four speakers - first up was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, then Steven Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, then Gordon Brown and finally President Obama.Gordon Brown made a slip-up during his speech that caused quite a bit of twittering (and probably tweeting) in the audience. He referred to Omaha Beach as "Obama Beach" - which I imagine would be really easy to do since on paper, they look almost the same. Then we had a 21 canon salute, and then a fly-over by Canadian, French and American military planes. Four remaining soldiers were inducted into the French legion of honor. There was supposed to be a fifth soldier, but he passed away the night before, after one final visit to the landing beaches.And then all the dignitaries took off in their helicopters - they did a quick fly-over along the coast before heading back to Paris, where the Obamas toured Notre Dame and then went for a quick dinner at a small local restaurant.

Even though a lot of people have complained that Obama's presence (and accompagnying media-circus) at the ceremony over-shadowed the importance of the day itself, I'm very glad to have been able to attend. There are fewer and fewer remaining D-day soliders left, and most are in poor health, leaving us to wonder how many will be around for the next celebration 5 years from now. And it's always a moving experience to visit the American cemetary and its surrounding area.

Lastly, I wanted to explain the title of the FB album I made - "Si les Ricains n'étaient pas là", or "If the Americans hadn't been there". I just realized that many of you out there may not be familiar with the song it was taken from, and in that case, how arrogant it must sound. So here's the background - Michel Sardou wrote a song called "Les Ricains" back in the late 60's, talking about how all of these young American soliders fought and died in a foreign country for people they didn't even know or care about. It's one of my favorite songs, and it's also one of the first French songs I was able to fully understand.

And it also comes in handy to be able to sing a line or two of it when talking to particularily anti-American Frenchies.

Not that I would do that or anything....

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Blogger The Duchess said...

I can only imagine what an emotional occasion that was for everyone there, but how amazing that you were able to experience it!
How sad one of the last 5 remaining veterans died the night before. It must have been particularly bittersweet for his family.
Thanks for the photos and the video!

June 9, 2009 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger KEF said...

I love that song -thanks so much for sharing!!! I'd never heard it before!

June 9, 2009 at 4:20 PM  
Blogger Cindy in NE said...

What a great post! I was there once on June 6. It's quite an experience. Thanks for the great photos and the introduction to the wonderful song. I don't know Michael Sardou, but I'll be looking him up!

June 9, 2009 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Zuleme said...

Hi Sam,
I had lost your blog when you changed and then found the new one. I am glad you are still posting and I appreciate being able to follow your life in France.
Maybe he had Obama on the brain, so Obama Beach.
We saw a documentary about D Day the night before. My husband is Swedish and he well remembers traveling through France in the 60's and seeing bombed out buildings and disabled veterans.
We need to remember this history.

June 9, 2009 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger Starman said...

Remembering this event is not nearly as important as learning from it. But will we? I think Iraq and Afghanistan have answered that.

June 9, 2009 at 8:23 PM  
Blogger wcs said...

I had to re-read that one sentence because the first time, I swear, I read "medal detector."

And it's not even wine time or anything. ;)

June 10, 2009 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Cécy said...

A very appropriate song for that day.

June 10, 2009 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Animesh said...

Great post!

June 17, 2009 at 4:40 PM  

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