Sunday, August 14, 2011

The First Liberated - Ste. Mere Eglise

Ste. Mere Eglise is the town that I was most excited to visit. The description of the town and it’s liberation were enticing in Ryan’s The Longest Day, and the movie only adds to the draw. Driving into the town, I had to smile when I saw that it’s sister town in the US is Gettysburg. My experience there certainly did not disappoint – in fact, it set my schedule back for the whole day.

The town is centered around a beautiful (and old) church, as are many of the towns in the area (and I assume the country, right Francine?). Outside of the cathedral is one of the lasting images of the media depiction of D-Day – Private John Steele hanging for the top, near the clock. The scene made famous in The Longest Day movie is there for all visitors to see and remind them that the US paratroopers (the 82nd and 101st Airborne) were the first to land in Normandy on June 6th.

Walking into the cathedral, there are two beautiful stained glass windows that commemorate the paratroopers as well – I don’t think my pictures give the full detail of their beauty, but I tried.

Adjacent to the cathedral, the impressive Airborne Museum tells the story of the paratroopers and their success in liberating Ste. Mere Eglise first of all towns in the Contenin peninsula. The museum is divided into two small halls, each covered with a top shaped like a parachute. The larger hall is dominated by a C-47, one of the planes that carried the airborne to the peninsula, while the smaller one has a Cody glider as its main exhibit. The exhibits are very complimentary of the American troops, singling out individuals who showed feats of valor and have returned to the area in the years after the war. It’s obvious that the museum (and the residents of the town) still feel great appreciation for what the American soldiers did in 1944. In addition, there is an encampment of GI re-enactors (all speaking French) that rivals many of those that I have seen in the states. I enjoyed talking with them (in a limited fashion) and taking a joy ride in a period Jeep – once the video gets up, it’s worth the laugh.

Ste. Mere Eglise reminded me a great deal of Gettysburg – a town (and its residents) tied to the history of what happened there, but also using its history as a source of revenue. There are more D-Day souvenier shops there that one can imagine, and everything is named after something about D-Day – cafes, restaurants, hotels, and most stores. Nothing wrong with that – I enjoyed doing a little window shopping and mentally spending hundreds of euros on cool stuff. Bottom line – if (and when) I return to Normandy, I would like to spend the night in Ste. Mere Eglise – my new favorite town.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could have seen you with the re-enactors. You must have been on cloud nine. I can see your big grin! They must have known you were coming.

    I also love Sainte-Mere-l'Eglise. We did talk about you staying at B&B but we must have opted not for a reason :(. It is a beautiful French village. The church is also a little French village church - not a cathedral. I will explain the difference when you get home. On Tuesday you will see Notre Dame - now that is a Cathedral!

    Love following your trip. Francine