The 65th Anniversary of D-Day Commemoration
June 3rd thru June 10th 2009.

Could things get crazier after what we had seen in Normandy in 2004? Well, I guess they could…

I had made the trip to Normandy in my WW2 Jeep on several occasions for the 5-yearly commemorations, but just like in 2004, we decided to take a couple of military bicycles in a van. These bikes would make for faster getting around when the region piled up with vehicles and crowds around June 6th. The echoes regarding the restrictions that the French government intended to impose on historic military vehicle owners for the 65th Anniversary in the Normandy region only added to this decision which would again turn out to be the best one. The media was only talking about one thing and that was President Obama's visit to the US Cemetery on the 6th.



'ObaMania' all over Normandy.......

As we drove to Normandy early on June 3rd, we didn't really know what to expect. Yes, the 65th D-Day Commemorations were going to be big and probably the last ones with veterans -who actually took part in the landings- attending. There had been a lot of talk and many events had been planned long in advance. There was absolutely no reason not to come prepared and we knew that we would have to make choices about what we wanted to see and what was less important to us... So, on our way over, the three of us were speculating about how the coming week was going to be... 



The Official Poster for the 65th Commemorations in the Utah-Beach area

That first day we headed straight to the La Fiere Bed & Breakfast near the Merderet Bridge where we had been invited by the new owners for a chat and a drink. Upon arrival in the Ste Mere Eglise area, it was immediately clear that more people than ever before would be attending the events and that it was going to be a busy week.
The afternoon was spent in Sainte Mere Eglise with a visit to the local Airborne
Museum which provided an insight in its expansion plans for the future.

As usual we were staying near the Pointe du Hoc, just a couple of miles West of Omaha Beach and before checking in, we drove over to the Vierville draw for a stroll along the beach.

On Thursday, a fair was organized at the Vierville school, while at the seaside near the National Guard Monument, a service commemorating the 29th Infantry Division was being held. Harold Baumgarten, a 29th Medic, related his exploits of that fatal day in June 1944 and the current Division Commander was present together with the Division Chaplain. Many ceremonies were planned and it would have been impossible to attend all, but since my main interest has always been the 29th Division, we decided to attend at least those parades.

   

At the 29th Infantry Division Parade at the Vierville Draw, Harold Baumgarten, a Medic with B Company/116th Regiment speaks about D-Day



Amongst the many re-enactors in Normandy, this 'Ernie Pyle' lookalike from Britain really stood out....

After this we visited the US cemetery where the preparations for the visit of US President Obama were underway. Grandstands were being built, and security patrols executed while helicopters flew overhead.
The Presidential helicopter 'Marine One' was checking out the landing zones on the cemetery.

   

Marine One flies over the US Cemetery as a K-9 Unit checks out the grounds...

The sun had come out and we decided to get the bikes out for an afternoon ride along Omaha Beach, which inevitably resulted in a flat tire…
This was soon fixed and we were off again to meet friends that stayed all over the Normandy countryside.



Two US Army Columbia Bicycles at Le Ruquet on Omaha Beach, an unusual sight...

   

Cycling on historical grounds in the Normandy Sun...



Fixing that flat.....

Friday would see a lot of driving back and forth, so we started early to attend the militaria fair at Ste Mere Eglise after which we were invited for a small BBQ with French friends.



Re-Enactors with their 2009 vehicle in Ste Mère Eglise.... I still wonder how long it took them to get everything sorted.. ;-)

After this we hit Omaha Beach again to attend the Rededication Ceremony of the National Guard Monument at Vierville, where again the 29’rs were in attendance. There I ran into several collector friends from the USMF.



A crowd of Veterans, Service Men, Dignataries and Re-enactors at the Vierville National Guard Monument

   

Flags and the 29th Bugler during the Vierville US National Guard Ceremony



Yannick and Jon, both 29th buffs, talk 29th stuff.....



VIXEN TOR II, a near perfect replica of the real Vixen Tor was present at the Vierville Ceremony.
Vixen Tor was the Jeep used by the 29th Divisional Commander, General Gerhardt and it now resides in the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore.

As this was the eve of D-Day, there would be fireworks all along the Normandy coast, and after an excellent dinner near Utah Beach, we watched the spectacle from the extreme West side… We missed this back in 2004 and were happy to see it this year. A huge crowd attended the display and it resulted in an enormous traffic jam all the way from Utah Beach to the N13. We decided to wait by the side of the road until traffic got running again which took until well after midnight.



Utah Beach by night; the monument is dedicated to the Danish Navy participating in D-Day

On the 6th, everyone was free to attend the visit of President Obama to the US cemetery at Colleville, but you needed to get there very early and stay late as the entire region was sealed off. We decided to go towards the Utah Beach sector again. In the afternoon members of Mark Bando’s Trigger Time Forum were invited by Mike De Trez at his Dead Man’s Corner Museum for a get-together, a beer and free entrance to the museum; a gesture appreciated by all. Later that day it started to rain and after a few days of very enjoyable weather it turned wet and cold for the remainder of our stay.

       

Although the sheep looked very tasty, we stuck to 'Baguette & Cheese'.....
Typical Normandy hedgerows on the right!

The next day, a monument for the 29th Division’s 175th Infantry Regiment was to be unveiled at Villiers-Fossard near St-Lô. At the same moment a small exhibition was organized by some local 29th collectors displaying absolutely amazing artifacts illustrating the heavy fighting that took place on Hill 108 in 1944.



A new monument in honor of the 175th Infantry Regiment waiting to be unveiled....

       

Some of the 29th Infantry Division items on display at Villiers-Fossard

A massive parachute jump on the La Fiere drop zone was scheduled that afternoon. Knowing how many people would come to see that, we parked the van near Picauville and cycled towards Ste Mere Eglise passing by the drop zone. Heavy rain made us take shelter along the way and although we saw the transport planes come over, we missed the actual drop and continued into Ste Mere’s main square for a drink with friends.

   

Trying to reach la Fiere at full speed to be on time for the Mass Drop which took place in terrible weather... 

After that Sunday things became fairly quiet as many people returned home after the weekend. We used Monday and Tuesday to tour the local militaria shops and vendors that had set up shop in the region and we visited museums and sites we had not yet been to that week.



The US Navy Monument at Utah Beach



An attractive entrance to a Re-Enactor Camp....

Using some WW2 pictures and 'After Action Reports', we located some key terrain features that had seen action from the US Rangers and that were located just next to our B&B. This enabled to shoot some ‘Then&Now’ photographs. We also drove down to Bayeux to find the station for another 'Then&Now'...

The dirt road the Rangers took South from Pointe du Hoc and where they established their forward CP;
picture taken in 1945, from Small Unit Actions 1946 (above) & The same road 9th June 2009 (below)

 

 

An American Despatch Rider awaits his turn at an Information Point from the British XXXth Corps at the Railway Station of Bayeux early July 1944 (above).
The same spot on June 8th, 2009 (below)

As our week in Normandy drew to a close we packed our bags and headed home on Wednesday June 10th after visiting the Merville Battery.



A British Paratrooper on display in Merville



Following complete restoration, C47 Serial# 43-15073 'The SNAFU Special' is now on diplay outside the Merville Battery

So the 65th D-Day Commemoration Week, one in which we had seen nice displays, vehicles and had met many old friends, had come to an end. As we look towards the 70th, we realize that it will never be the same as by 2014 there will not be a lot of veterans left, let alone able to make the trip...

 

 

Please go to the next page for a review of the 2004 Commemorations