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Fw: Impressions of D Day 2014

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  • MARK L SHAFER
    Phelps and Frank,  I believe the members of the Merchant Marine Navy League and the American Merchant Marine Veterans organizations would enjoy reading
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 11 4:45 PM
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      Phelps and Frank,  I believe the members of the Merchant Marine Navy League and the American Merchant Marine Veterans organizations would enjoy reading Carolyn O'Brien's report of the four volunteer crew members representing the JEREMIAH O'BRIEN and the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans at the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
      Aloha, Mark






      On Tuesday, July 8, 2014 11:46 PM, "carolyn1774@..." <carolyn1774@...> wrote:
      Dear Carolyn:
      I just read your story, forwarded yesterday, about your visit to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  You certainly have a talent for writing.  Thank you very much.  It is great.  As far as I am concerned, I am hereby submitting it to our JEREMIAH O'BRIEN Editor, Linda Greg.  There is nothing I could add and I have not heard from your travel partners, Tom and Susan Bernard.
      With your permission, I will also send copies to the President of Naval Order, Colonel Allen Cruz, and the President of Military Officers Association of America, Greg Allen,  with the suggestion that the members of those two organizations would like to read your story in their newsletters.  We are proud that the four of you were official representatives of the WWII Liberty ship JEREMIAH O'BRIEN and the U.S. Merchant Marine.  Thank you.  Aloha, Mark L. Shafer

       
      Hi All: 
       Below you will find the latest copy of our D-Day impression.  Tom and Susan please add, delete or correct anything that Bob and  I wrote.  Thanks  Hope to see you soon Carolyn O'Brien.
       
      Impression of 70th Commemoration of D Day June6 2014
      Tom and Susan Bernard Bob Arakel and Carolyn O'Brien
      After picking up our rental car, learning how to get it in reverse, dealing with the traffic in Paris,and getting a good night sleep, on June 4 we were on our way through the French county side to meet Colonel Legout, the Administrator of the D-day Museum in Arromanches (gold beach). Our first task was to present him and the museum with a life ring from the S.S.Jeremiah O'Brien. We give a big thanks to Art Tanish and Phil O'Mara for providing it to us. We parked the car in the city parking lot behind the mayors office which turned out to be our studio apartment for the duration. In the past this building was the city hall and the jail. It was a good thing we parked the car since traffic was impossible for the next four days. No freeways here and the estimated crowd in Normandy was between 5 and 7 million people.
      On June 5 Colonel Legout arranged for us, a driver, a van and an interpreter. The interpreter was great and we went wherever we wanted to go for the entire day. The only stipulation was that we had to be back by 4:00. So when we got back at 5:00 the traffic was not moving and our driver took us back on roads we would have never found on our own. That day we visited a set of bunkers near gold beach where one canon was still intact. Our guide prepared a speech she researched about this location. Next we went to a museum where a man had collected “stuff” and tanks and equipment sunk off the Normandy beaches. Our driver was his nephew. He has since passed away but his wife continues to run this most interesting museum. The local people thought he was crazy until one day he found some important papers that were whisked away to the state department in London. Nobody knows what they were, but after that his work was taken more seriously. Next we went to Omaha Beach where we spent most of the day. There were lots of people setting up for tomorrow, June 6. We wore our JOB jackets and hats, and we spoke to many people that were interested in the ship. A family from Benicia, Ca. promised to visit the ship when get back, a man from Washington D.C. and his friend from Poland. There were lots of people in period uniforms, reenactors, vintage Jeeps and trucks on the roads. Hundreds of people were camping in period tents and vehicles. The whole countryside was decorated in flags and banners, all the countries that were at D-Day. One house had all the allied flags as well as a German flag. Omaha beach is very impressive, the statue, the marble depiction of the D- Day movements, and of course the white forest of neatly planted crosses and stars of David; 9,420 of them. Our guide pointed out that the only way you can see all of it is by air. The museum there is free to all and the most sobering element is when the names of all who died there is continually read out loud. This land is deeded to the United States so we were standing on U.S. soil.
      June 6 the day we were waiting for; we woke to the sound of several bands practicing for their upcoming performance and what a performance is was. Their uniforms, hats and feathers were in top notch shape. We were given special passes and told to dress in our best for reserved seating in the town square. The morning ceremony was with the King Wilham and Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands presenting wreaths and a speech by the Secretary of Defense of the Netherlands, who happened to be a young women. That afternoon we were to meet (from a distance) the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate of England. He gave a wonderful speech followed by a laying of a wreath. The main ceremony was at Sword Beach, but it was broadcast live to us on a huge TV screen in the town square. We heard the French President's speech but of course it was in French so we were not sure what he said. We saw all the heads of state, Queen Elizabeth, Obama, Merkel, Putin and others. In the evening we attended a dinner in honor of the Normandy Veterans. We met a veteran that served in the Merchant Navy as they call it in England and he was on a British Liberty ship that brought, among other supplies, Coca Cola and chewing gum for the U.S. GI s.
      As we sat down at the veterans dinner, we counted 5 glasses at each place setting. Each glass was filled with French Champagne and wines to complement each course. The French really know how to throw a dinner party. The dessert was a torte shaped like a Higgins boat with raspberries for the helmets and chocolate sticks for rifles, in the middle was a huge sparkler which was lit on each table as the lights were dimmed. A special tribute was given to a veteran that landed on Gold beach on his 16 th birthday June 6,1944( he lied about his age when he enlisted). We were very happy to help him celebrate his 86th birthday.
      June 7 the celebration continues with a spectacular show by Patrouille de France, the French equivalent of our Blue Angels. The ladies in the tourist office dressed in 1940s period costume and of course the nylons had seams up the back that were perfectly straight, said that the pilots were the “best in the world,” and really hot guys. We thought well, we will see. After the most spectacular show we have ever seen,with lots of loops and colored smoke, the near miss passes, we did agree that they are the best in the world. The day was also filled with numerous bands, bag pipers, swing music,” the ladies of liberty “an Andrews sisters like act, and reenactments. We saw an LCT with two tanks emerging, several DUKWS and of course people in Jeeps everywhere. Someone actually enclosed a Jeep in assorted knitting. There is a term for this “yarn storming”. It is very big in London. There were paratroopers one evening that landed on targets on the beach and of course fireworks, simultaneously on all five beaches. We concluded that the French are very good at celebrations. All along the way on every day we spoke to veterans and listened to their stories, one wonders how painful this is for them or maybe it is therapeutic. A good friend of the assistant mayor, who recently retired from being an English interpreter and tour guide on the Normandy beaches, told us a story about an elderly American veteran that she took to Omaha beach. He was very sober and quiet on the whole trip. Upon walking on the beach he went by himself in a different direction than the others in the group. She followed him and he started opening up and talking about that day, June 6. He said, “the last time I was here I was alone, thank-you for being here with me this time”. At that point he told her what it was like and what happened to him. Later in the day his wife of many years said she had not heard these stories before. After this encounter his personality changed to much happier and outgoing person. Just being on that beach a second time changed his life again. It was heartwarming to see these elderly men in good spirits talking to children of all ages. There were parents lining their kids up to get autographs on anything they had.  I (Carolyn) remember at Omaha beach, I walked up to a veteran in a wheel chair and shook his hand, then not knowing what to say next I just said ,“Thank-you” and walked away in silence. His son or companion said to me “that's all you needed to say”. I felt a lump in my throat.
      Our last day in Normandy was June 8, after saying our good-byes and thank- yous we departed for Juno and Sword beaches and the Pegasus Bridge. Many tolls later on the French Freeway, Paris traffic and a horrendous hail storm we arrive back at our rental house about 2:00am in the morning, tired but still excited about our adventure for the past five days.
      In summing up our impressions, it is a tribute to the human spirit that we still, after 70 years are honoring these men and women that made it possible to have the freedoms we have today.
      D- Day Causalities:
      Utah197- Gold 413- Omaha 2499- Juno 204- Sword 630-
      Let us not forget the other sacrifices made, the civilians lost to this madness: 62,00 in the United Kingdom,10 million in Russia, 5.7 million in Poland, 700,000 in Germany, 198,00 in the Netherlands, 350,000 in France. 6 million of these people were of Jewish decent. Eight of the French were in the very village of Arromanches.




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