Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Beaches of D-Day "ultra": souvenir and respect

This week, I'm enjoying some vacation in Normandy, the homeland of my parents. My mother's family is from Granville, in the South of Normandy, very close to the Mont St Michel which marks the border with Brittany. My father's family originated in the Central part of Normandy: Calvados.

Trévières, where my grandfather lived during the war, is situated about 8 miles from the sea and what became Omaha Beach in June 1944. The small village was almost entirely destroyed on D-Day by the bombs fired by the American float, unable to see the coast from miles away. They wanted to take the German by surprise to destroy the "wall" they built to defend the entire coast facing the Atlantic.

My grandfather was in his house when a bomb fell in his backyard. The funny anecdote is that it destroyed the entrance of his cellar. As the Americans were passing by, and he was so overjoyed by the ongoing Liberation, he gave away all of his best bottles of Calvados to the soldiers, some who quickly got drunk with such a exquisite 45-degree liquor! In exchange he got some jars of gasoline, not the same taste but better for the car! My grandfather for a toast with the American troops, to celebrate the 4th of July, 1944:

Anyway, we wanted to visit this region during our next family trip to France after my son, Alex, did a documentary about Trevieres on June 6th 1944. So here we are, for a pilgrimage to what shaped the Europe we know today. Alex in front of his great grandfather's house in Trévières:

What does this blog post have to do with running? As Agnès and the boys visited the museums, I ran 29 miles along the beaches, from Arromanches, or Golf Beach where the British troops landed, to the Pointe du Hoc (view of Utah Beach), back to the American Memorial and Cemetery of Colleville sur Mer, or Omaha Beach, where the American landed, and so many lost their lives. With the boys in Arromanches, the start of my run:

I was excited to resume my training after a complete week off following my great experience at Western States last weekend. I wanted to run on the beaches but the tide was high and the beaches are separated by steep cliffs, so I followed the road. That was a lot of asphalt after the 100 miles of trail last week, but most of the cars slowed down when passing me, especially the visitors from all over Europe. I was surprised to see so many cars from Denmark. Others included: Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Spain, many cars from Great Britain of course due to the proximity and the ferry, and also some cars from Germany, although there is not a single flag of Germany along the way, given the circumstances.

I didn't really plan to go for an ultra today, so I had only one bottle of water and 2 GUs. It took me three hours and 22 minutes to reach the 26.2 mile mark. Then I switched to a short ultra stride for the next 3 miles because I was worried not to see Agnès and the car. They finally arrived as I was entering Colleville, 1 mile from the American Cemetery. Other than the American embassy in Paris, this is the only territory and piece of land that the US owns in France (see The American Battle Monument Committee website).

A quote about Sacrifice at the entrance of the museum: "Then it all came down to this brief first day of battle on the coast of Normandy, and, for so many of them, it all ended. For the rest of us, what has been since has not been the same." [Capt Charles Cawthon - US Army - 29th Infantry Division]
Endless views of tombs of soldiers who gave their life in the combat against the nazism. 9,387 headstones, not counting 1,557 missing in actions. About 3,000 soldiers died while landing on the beaches, turning the sea to red. As I was running, I was thinking of these men who had to jump in the water, under the enemy's fire, hearing the sound of the bombs and bullets, while seeing their teammates and friends falling. This must have been the worst "run" you can ever imagine. Such thoughts made my long run so much easier, in this windy and rainy weather.
A quote about Courage: "I started out to cross the beach with thirty-five men and only six got to the top, that's all..." [2nd Lt Bob Edlin - US Army - 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion]
Sincere thanks to these anonymous heroes, who gave their lives to bring freedom back to my parents. That the thousands of visitors continue to bring them respect, tribute and peace. And work in today's world at building peace everywhere we can, to avoid creating such tragedies again.
PS: July 4th, Independence Day, is not about remembering this war, but, last Sunday, July 1st, many French people gathered at Omaha Beach to tell the American how they will never forget about such a sacrifice for their country (see the website: The French Will Never Forget). The text below is made of people standing:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Jean. Happy 4th of July.

Anonymous said...

Jean, thanks for the tribute. It is deeply appreciated. Your grandfather would be proud of your run no doubt.

kmpham said...

Jean, it's so great to share with us these thoughts, you are a so rich person to be with…

Eh... wait... well he's gone, running to fast for me, but I am with you by the heart.

Khai Minh

Sophie said...

pour une 1ère visite sur le site je ne suis pas déçue par le sujet...Sympa la photo de Taté et tt le reste... Bises

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Jean, nice post. That's so cool with your grandfather, the wine, and the AP Photo. I jogged on the beaches of Normandy a few years ago, (didn't go as long as you did, though), and was very moved by our entire visit.

Anonymous said...

coucou Jean, avec l'aide de Sophie Bravo pour ce beau document dont j'avais eu un aperçu .

Unknown said...

Jean, sounds like an awesome experience. Nothing like a long run to experience the sites and sounds of a new area.

Long may you run!

Anonymous said...

Super Jean, et en tant que Française, je suis très fière de t'avoir comme cousin, quelle superbe course !! je suis très touchée par ta démarche ainsi que par celle des garçons et de Agnès, pour ne pas oublier tous ces valeureux gars qui font qu'aujourd'hui je suis toujours Française ...!!! MAYA de Casa

Anonymous said...

Un grand bravo pour ce "pélerinage" je suis très fière de t'avoir comme cousin, c'est bien grâce à ces valeureux gars que nous avons encore un passeport Français aujourd'hui...!!! super ton site Jean...!! une groupie admirative ....! Maya de Casa