Normandy: Paying Our Respects

I wish every American could visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy and pay tribute to the servicemen who risked or sacrificed their lives there.  We were privileged to do so on our recent trip to France and it was one of the most unforgettable parts of our journey.

Prior to leaving Paris for Normandy, my husband and I watched “Saving Private Ryan” on DVD.  I previously eschewed this movie; afraid I would be unable to stomach the gristly D-Day battle scenes.  However, in preparation for our D-Day tour, I felt it important to watch to gain a small measure of appreciation for what the troops braved.

We took a 2-hour train from Paris on Friday evening and spent the weekend at the Hotel Churchill (reputed to have been Eisenhower’s favorite hotel during the war) in Bayeux, which was the closest village to the D-Day beaches that was left untouched during the conflict.  On Saturday, we toured the American D-Day beaches.

Our guide was Dominique, a French woman whose family resided in the area for generations.  She was extremely knowledgeable, spoke excellent English due to a stint in Santa Barbara, CA, and gave us a local perspective on historical events.  She peppered her commentary with personal stories of relatives who participated in the French Resistance and their involvement with the occupation and liberation, which was fascinating.

What I learned, from a historical perspective, was that the D-Day beaches were code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah, for purposes of the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. The Americans were responsible for Omaha and Utah and these were the beaches we visited.   Young soldiers (many of them 18 – 20 years old with no previous combat experience) carrying 70 libs of battle gear apiece were transported in flat bottom boats in rough waters to the shore (many becoming seasick) and dropped into the cold water, several drowning under the weight of their gear even before reaching shore.

The first units, taking advantage of surprise, made their way quickly to farmland at Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches.  Americans at Omaha were not that lucky.  There, in the center of the battlefront, soldiers walked into a wall of German gunfire.  Earlier bombing raids had been largely ineffective in taking out the heavy German armaments.  Attempting to scale a bluff well covered by German defenders, more than 2,000 GIs were killed or wounded.   After penetrating corpse-laden beaches, the soldiers ran into a maze of hedgerows in which the Germans had stationed machine gunners, invisible to the Allies until they were virtually on top of them. But by nightfall, they had secured the bluff and later proceeded to join troops enroute to liberating France.

No one is certain of the exact numbers, but there were probably around 4,500 American and Allied casualties the first day, horrific yet considerably less than the 75,000 some planners had feared. That more troops were not killed is testimony to the planning, training and weaponry of the Allies.

My husband wading into the waters at Omaha Beach

My husband wading into the waters at Omaha Beach

Watching “Saving Private Ryan” beforehand helped to personalized the story of Omaha Beach.  The movie conveys the terror, anxiety, sadness and horror felt by the young men who participated in D-Day.  During our tour, even though the weather was blustery and cold (but warmer than the actual D-Day), my husband (himself a military veteran) wore shorts and sandals, and he walked down the beach and into the water so he could feel what the troops felt and, looking back at the shore, see what they saw.  We observed the immense width of the beaches (which were not as low tide as on the actual D-Day) GIs were required to traverse in the face of withering enemy fire, remnants of the heavily fortified German bunkers and weaponry, the craters still visible from Allied bombing, the lethal hedgerows; all combined to leave us overcome with a profound sense of sadness for the loss of so many and a deep gratitude for their courage. We were heartened to witness the gratitude still felt and exhibited by the French in Normandy toward Americans.

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The American Cemetery in Normandy

The next stop after Omaha Beach was the American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha, where 9,300 U.S. service men and women are buried, representing only a third of the total U.S. casualties in Normandy (the remaining two-thirds were returned home at their families’ request).   Half of those killed in Normandy had no previous combat experience.  This I found the most emotional part of the visit.   Rows and rows of marble crosses and Stars of David stretched as far as the eye could see.  As I walked through these sacred grounds, with tears streaming down my face, I read the names and ages and hometowns of those resting there.  Age 19, age 20, age 18—– it was heartbreaking and I considered my anguish if one of these were my own 20-year-old son.   I said quiet prayers of gratitude for them and prayers of comfort for their families.

The British Cemetery in Bayeux

The British Cemetery in Bayeux

The next day, after we returned to Bayeux, we visited the British Cemetery, where 4,650 are buried (including some Germans).  It was a lovely cemetery with rows of stone markers decorated with colorful flowers.   I again felt overcome with emotion, particularly as I read the personal messages on the gravestones.  One in particular caught my eye and tugged at my heartstrings:



"He was so young to give so much"

“He was so young to give so much”

We should always remember the sacrifices made by these young men and remember that they were just that – young men.  Each had a story and a future and a family and hopes and dreams.  No matter how terrified, they said “yes” to the call, and the result was the preservation of life and freedom for others.  I am grateful that I was able to travel to this awful, beautiful, and blessed place to personally say thank you to these valiant heroes of the “Greatest Generation”.

Please Stand By…..I Am Currently Experiencing Technical Difficulties..Potentially Forever

OK, I admit, besides my friends, there are a few things I miss about the job.   In no particular order:

  • My office
  • My Administrative Assistant (who counts double since I consider him a friend)
  • IT Support

Up until I was getting close to retirement, I primarily used my work laptop to store files, my company email address for all correspondence, and my office phone number and my company BlackBerry to communicate.   We have an iMac at home for my husband that I rarely used.  At work, I had a great office, one down from the corner on the outside, with a great view of the city from the 20th floor.

I was the Queen of my technology.  I had my email organized in archives by year and subject matter. My laptop files were organized such that I could find almost anything from any client, any topic, any year, within a matter of minutes.  Just try me! I had the best Administrative Assistant in the office, and he took care of all my travel arrangements, created kick-ass PowerPoint, Word and Excel documents for me, finished tasks with minimal direction (because I’m convinced he is part gypsy mind-reader), and was always calm, kind and patient.  When I had a computer problem that Mel couldn’t handle, we had an IT department and a help desk that I could call 24/7.

In anticipation of retirement, my husband and I bought iPhones. an iPad and a Mac Book Pro laptop.  Then I started transitioning files and contacts to all our various devices.

And that’s when the trouble began.  First, I tried to download scores of personal documents onto a flash drive and then transfer them to my home laptop.  On first blush, everything looked copacetic and I marveled at how easy this transition was going to be.  A week before my last day in the office, however, on a whim I tried to actually open one of these files and got an ominous error message.   I then spent half a day furiously emailing documents from the office to home.

A few days AFTER I surrendered my company laptop, I noticed that messages in my personal email inbox (including the personal file attachments I so valiantly saved) were mysteriously disappearing after 7 days. All this occurring from my new base of operations: the den at home, with no desk, no view, with its own weather system of 85 – 90 degrees in the summer even with the A/C on and the ceiling fan that routinely blows all of my papers off the coffee table and under the futon couch causing me to constantly think I have lost my mind because I can never find anything.


As part of his lecture to me at the Apple Store, the Genius drew this chart because he could tell I had no clue what he was talking about

As part of his really annoying lecture to me at the Apple Store, the Genius drew this chart to illustrate his points. I just wanted to know why my emails were disappearing.

By this time, the closest thing I had to an IT helpdesk was my husband.  I approached him at what was apparently an inconvenient moment about my disappearing email problem and he suggested I leave him alone and make an appointment with the Genius at the Apple Store.  The next day I met with Sean O’Twentysomething, the Apple Genius, who really irritated me when he didn’t just push a button and fix my problem immediately but instead schooled me about IMAP and POP and the CLOUD (as if I really cared).  But not half as much as I irritated my husband when I showed him Sean’s IMAP/POP/ICLOUD  drawings and told him that Sean O’Twentysomething said I should delete all our emails and start over.  My husband muttered something about multiple devices and iCloud and how much easier it was with just him on the home computer.

A series of further technical crises ensued, including a need to determine how to print from the laptop in the den to the computer in the family room, my inability to print attachments from an email, trouble deciphering how Apple mail organizes emails by “conversation” (causing me to shriek “HELP ME….THE EMAILS ARE DISAPPEARING AGAIN!!!), and messing up both of our shared calendars. One morning, after I marched into the kitchen a third or fourth time to have a word with the IT department (my husband) who was in the middle of slicing apples, he said, “You sure are demanding.  Were you like this at work?”  And then he went back to slicing apples. My reply that I was only being about a third as demanding as I was at work and that I missed Mel who was always patient and helpful with me certainly didn’t help the situation.

In my minds eye, I saw flashbacks of my father, who retired as a Navy captain after a distinguished 30-year career.  The first thing my mom did when he retired was to assign him chores around the house.  Mainly to send a clear message as to who was in charge. The two chores I clearly remember were vacuuming the stairs and cleaning the toilets.  My father instinctively knew that he would never issue orders again.  In this moment of clarity, I too, realized that I have lost my clout in my new world order.  I’m going to just have to wait my turn with the IT department, until he’s good and ready to help me, or just get used to a life of technical difficulties…or, horrors!…..start to figure things out myself.