With D-Day drawing near, the streets of Normandy are filled with reenactors driving around in Jeeps and on motorcycles while dressed in period clothing. I have seen soldiers and sailors, a few medics, and women dressed as Rosie the Riviter and in wartime civilian clothing. It makes the area come alive and it’s easier to imagine what these towns looked like during the war…until the people break out their barbecues for hotdogs and fries!
The highlight of the day for me was our lunchtime stop in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, one of the first towns liberated on D-Day. The square was alive with music, reenactors, and shops. We went into the church in the main city square – which is associated with a great wartime story. Private John Steele, an American Paratrooper, was part of the airborne units dropped as part of the D-Day invasion. He was unable to make his target area and landed at the top of the church steeple. He hung from that spot for several hours until he was rescued. To commemorate this story, the town has placed a mannequin paratrooper hanging from the church as Private Steele did on D-Day. As we were approaching, one of our group leaders tried to trick us and said “Ahh, it looks like they’ll be switching out that poor lad soon for him to break for lunch.” Some of us did a quick double take before realizing the joke!
We also had an opportunity to sit on one of the many tanks and other vehicles displayed around the town. The French men were just about to finish up their tank “tours” for the day when we asked if we could sit up on a tank for a picture. At first they were going to say that they were done for the day but when we said we were Canadian they said they’d allow us just because we are Canadian! I have found myself feeling very proud to be a Canadian throughout his trip, and it’s amazing to see how grateful the people of France still are to their liberators 73 years later!