Normandy braces for 2nd invasion
NORMANDY, France — World War II vintage Jeeps and motorcycles clog the narrow lanes, and some restaurants are so busy they’re denying customers side dishes.
Area hotels were booked up to two years ago and thousands of allied soldiers — both present and former — are roaming the beaches and peeking over hedgerows. Every so often, concussions from ceremonial cannon reverberate through the air.
Call it the second invasion of Normandy, albeit of a much friendlier sort.
“Tomorrow and the next day, it’s just going to be impossible to move around,” said Jack Cornwall, 68, who snapped photos Friday at Utah Beach with his wife, Jean, 70.
Up to 20,000 people are expected to attend 16 official ceremonies honoring veterans of the allied forces that stormed Normandy’s beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Among them are 8,000 veterans and 3,500 journalists, The Associated Press reported. Many of the ceremonies running through Monday, however, require special credentials. That’s leaving some tourists beating a retreat as early as Saturday — the day before the 60th anniversary events.
“I just hope we can get our vet in,” said Linda Ball, 55, of Austin, Texas, who was traveling with a friend’s father, a veteran of the Omaha Beach landing.
By Sunday, it will be as if martial law has been declared. All roads leading to the region, including the main east-west artery, National Route 13, will close between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Speed limits on many of the smaller roads connecting the most popular sites have been reduced. Air and sea traffic also are being strictly limited.
All this to allow for the safe passage of a coterie of heads of state — including President Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair — and various other military and political dignitaries, who will preside over Sunday’s ceremonies.
“We’re living in an uncertain world now,” Al Bailey, 69, of Dallas, said of the apparent anti-terrorism security measures.
“But this does crank it up a notch,” his friend Forrest Preece, 57, of Austin, Texas, said of the visiting dignitaries. “They should stay home and watch it on satellite TV.”
Even the local cell phone networks are jammed up because so many organizers, journalists and security managers are tapping into the satellites, one U.S. Army spokesman said.
To help provide security over the weekend, 9,000 French soldiers, 6,000 gendarmes and 3,000 U.S. troops are in Normandy, AP reported. Many of the U.S. troops also will be escorting veterans to their seats at the ceremonies.
The Cornwalls, whose hometown in Sonning, England, was a major U.S. troop billeting area during World War II, hope to see as much as they can before the area shuts down to vehicle traffic.
“We just wanted to come and get a feel of the atmosphere,” Jean Cornwall said. “We’d like to watch the parachute jump” — when troops from several airborne units fall on Sainte-Mère-Église on Saturday — “but we’ll probably have to walk there.”