Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vive la France - Part Two

“In my yellow-trimmed bassinet, tucked into the corner of the dining room, I was oblivious to the swirl of history-making world events reported each day on the radio.  D-Day was still four months away. Many men in our small town were soldiers in the Pacific, and an uncle was missing in action somewhere in Europe. Since Dad worked for an industry vital to the war effort, he stayed on the home front.  I never would have been born if my father had been called into military service. My sisters remember ration coupons, victory gardens, and life-altering telegrams from the War Department, as well as dancing in the streets on VE and VJ Day. As for me, I cried, nursed, and slept through it all.”  (Excerpt from my memoir Born Three Times)                                    

June 6, 1944 has been commemorated for over 74 years as the day of the invasion of France and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Hitler and his murderous regime. Commonly called D-Day, the Allied invasion force stormed fifty miles of the Normandy coast on five different beaches.  The logistics and tremendous sacrifice involved in such a massive operation became apparent to us during our recent visit to the historical site.  Emotions were close to the surface as we looked out over Omaha Beach. The site of the U.S. landing and the white crosses and stars of David that climbed the grassy hill commemorated over 9,400 soldiers and pilots buried there. 

Viking Cruise arranged a special ceremony for us at the site.  As the Stars & Stripes flew in a bright blue sky, we all sang the Star Spangled Banner, followed by a recorded version of taps, and a moment of silence. Then the veterans in the group, including Charles, were recognized. Each of us was given a flower to place on a grave. Charles & I chose to place our flowers on the graves of the fallen from the states where we were born—New York and Tennessee.  We prayed for those whose lives were cut short so that we can be free from tyranny today. 

A breath-taking sculpture stood overlooking the cemetery in honor of those who paid it all. The statue is a representation of a soldier rising from the water with his hand toward heaven.  It is a visual reminder of the brevity of life. 

As we traveled along the beaches, we saw the location of an artificial port build by the Allies. Remnants of the amazing feat of engineering are still visible in the water. In order to supply the thousands of troops, since the Germans controlled all the ports, caissons and piers were floated across the English Channel in order to construct an artificial port at Arromanches, France. Once constructed, tons of material could be loaded onto the beach and trucked inland to supply the fighters.  Those who operated the supply lines are the unsung heroes of the invasion force.

Our last stop on Normandy was to the water’s edge at Omaha Beach.  It was like walking on holy ground as we walked on the sand and looked up at the remaining German bunkers that dotted the hillside.  We left that place thankful and blessed to have lived in a free country bought with the blood of others.

I was reminded of John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Vive la France - Part One

Viking Longship
Eiffel Tower
Over 55 years ago, I sat in my third-year high school French class wishing I could see the sights of Paris (Par-ee). My American History professor made the events of World War II so interesting I wanted to see where the Allies stormed the beaches of France to liberate Europe from the Nazis. It almost took a lifetime, but I finally checked both items off my bucket list during our recent trip to France.

“Vive la France” is translated: Long Live France or Hurray for France.  This patriotic expression describes our wonderful trip to that country. Viking River Cruises was our host and travel agent for our ten-day tour. We spent three additional days in Paris before we boarded our long ship to travel the Seine River. The weather was picture perfect and so was our experience on board. Our stateroom with balcony was roomy (for a cruise ship) and the dining exceeded our expectations.

I still want to be called “Madame” and “My Lady” and waited on hand and foot but reality has set in. Along with good memories, a nasty French virus decided to fly back home with us. The stowaway gave me a sinus infection and bronchitis that is hard to shake.  But I digress and will go back to the fun parts of the trip.

Sacre-Coeure on Montmartre
The Eiffel Tower is a world renowned symbol of France. This wrought-iron masterpiece was constructed in 1889 when Paris hosted the World’s Fair.  Our hotel room was only a block away, so we had to make the 1,093 ft. ride to the top.  We were not disappointed with our panoramic view of Paris and the serpentine Seine River.

Other Paris adventures included a ride on a funicular to Montmartre to see the Basilica of Sacre-Coeure (Church of the Sacred Heart). We also enjoyed watching local artists paint around the town square. We learned about the 19th & 20th century artists who lived and painted there–Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, & Matisse to name a few.

Monet Garden
French artist, Claude Monet, is one of my favorite painters. A trip to his home and gardens in the French countryside on the second day of our cruise was a highlight for both Charles and me. His gardens and ponds which inspired his paintings are a sight to behold. Acres of colorful flowers were visible from Monet’s second floor studio and became the subjects of his impressionist paintings.

Much of the third day was spent on board enjoying the beauty of the French countryside and the chateaus and rustic villages that lined the banks. We enjoyed the lounge chairs and umbrellas that protected us from the hot sun on the top deck of the ship.  An occasional breeze carried the scent of herbs grown in containers that were to be used in the chef’s kitchen. We were finally able to relax as we floated down the river through the Provence of Normandy on our way to the place where world changing history was made.

Cruising the Seine

Stay tuned for my next blog post with our impressions of the D-day beaches of Normandy and the sights and sounds of our return trip to Paris.