France prepares to mark 62nd anniversary of D-Day
June 1, 2006
SAINTE-MÈRE-ÉGLISE, France — The welcome wagon is cranking up for its 62nd annual ride.
“This is the place to wear the uniform,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Erik Math. “You’re more popular here in uniform than if dressed like an average tourist.”
Math, of the defense attaché office in Paris, and others arrived this week to finish preparing for the annual celebration of the Allies’ liberation of France, which began with the landings and paratroop drops into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
About 50,000 are expected to crowd into tiny Sainte-Mére-Église, the first village to be liberated, for its various parties. The French, as usual, are expected to roll out the red carpet for the surviving liberators, who are now in their 80s.
“They (World War II veterans) have a special look,” said Jean-Bernard Valognes, a local businessman. “Their faces are a little bit different from the others.”
For the first time, paratroops from Germany, which was the enemy 62 years ago, will join ones from the U.S., Britain, Canada and France for the yearly jump into the field at La Friere Bridge, located just outside the village.
“This is the paratroops’ Mecca, like Belleau Wood is for the Marines,” said Math, referring to the famed World War I battle near Paris.
About 250 troops were originally scheduled to jump, but Math said that about 80 soldiers from Fort Benning, Ga., would likely not make the trip due to a late order by the Army to suspend discretionary spending.
Also for the first time, the nearby city of Bayeux is joining with 33 other municipalities in the Bessin region to coordinate their D-Day events. Before, the events were held individually, with each town doing its own thing.
“We wanted to create something that would be more popular,” said Caroline Broscher, a spokeswoman for the Bayeux tourist office. “The idea is to have a bigger D-Day festival [in 2007] and have one every year.”
In the future, Broscher said, the towns might schedule festivals to their particular dates of importance. For example, Bayeux was liberated on June 7, 1944. Broscher said this could enable a longer-lasting festival with individual towns taking turns in the spotlight over several weeks.
At the American Cemetery at Normandy in Colleville sur-Mer, between Sainte-Mère-Église and Bayeux, it has already been a busy year, according to Fred Rhodes, the cemetery’s assistant superintendent.
Through late May, approximately 450,000 people had visited the cemetery, Rhodes said, which is about 25 percent more than normal.
David Greco, who is from Southborough, Mass., but currently working in England, was visiting the cemetery on Memorial Day with his family.
“It’s fantastic — I started to cry when I came in,” said Greco, as he stood among the 9,387 white crosses that overlook Omaha Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s not just [the cemetery],” said Katy Greco, David’s wife. “It’s also all the beaches and little towns.
“The thing is, all these people got out of the boats and ran right into the fire. Do people like this still exist anymore?”
D-Day anniversary eventsSome highlights for this year’s D-Day commemoration in Normandy, France:
8:30 p.m. — Concert in the church, organs and trumpets, by the church organ committee.
10:30 a.m. — Religious service at the church.
5-8:30 p.m. — Country market at the farm museum.
7 p.m. — Barbecue and live music on the square.
9 p.m. — 1940s dress-up party on the square.
1 p.m. — At La Fiere, parachute drop featuring U.S., French, British, Canadian and German paratroopers.
3:30 p.m. — Wreath laying at Iron Mike monument.
5:30-11:30 p.m. — Welcoming of veterans, servicemen at the square. Music, fireworks.
8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. — Military exchange at Market Hall. Other events day and night in Picauville, Chef du Pont, Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Etienville and Saint-Marcouf-de-L’Isle.
11 a.m. — Ceremony at Amfreville paratroops memorial.
Noon — Remembrance ceremony at American monument, Utah Beach.
5-9 p.m. — Ceremonies and music in Sainte-Mère-Église.
There will be additional events through June 10. For information go online to www.sainte-mere-eglise.info or call (+33) (0)233-210033.
11 a.m.-7 p.m. — Display of vintage military vehicles, costumes and other attractions at Longues-sur-Mer, site of the historic German battery. Fireworks at 11 p.m.
All day — at Omaha Beach golf course, exhibition of wartime vehicles and equipment.
7-10 p.m. — Preview of the renovated Normandy Memorial Museum in Bayeux. Free. At 10 p.m. outside the museum, there will be a showing of “Saving Private Ryan” (in French) on a drive-in style movie screen.
2:45 p.m. — At British cemetery in Bayeux, official D-Day ceremonies.
For more information go online to www.bayeux-bessin-tourisme.com or call (+33) (0)231-214687.
Local tourist information offices have more-detailed schedules.