Our TIVO recorded The Longest Day some time last year, and my husband and I have been saving it for just the right time. We’re headed to Normandy later in June and wanted to watch it close to our trip, so we’d be familiar with some of the towns and sites we’ll visit. We chose to watch it Memorial Day evening, which is fitting. And, of course, the 70th anniversary of D-Day is right around the corner too. Filmed in 1962, the black and white film runs three hours, but is well worth the time. I, for one, hope we never forget the sacrifices made during that war.
The cast includes big stars like John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery and many others you’ll recognize. As you watch the movie, the names of the historical characters flash on the screen. Of course, my husband, the military history buff, knows about them all. Add to that his knowledge of which actors actually served in WWII, and you have a fact-filled viewing. I learned that Eddie Albert “…was awarded the Bronze Star for rescuing American soldiers during the Battle of Tarawa while under heavy gunfire in 1943…and also lost a portion of his hearing from the noise of the battle.” Henry Fonda served in the Pacific during WWII and also earned the Bronze star. I’m pretty sure my husband could name most of the Hollywood stars who served.
I’d read about the paratrooper who landed on top of a church in Sainte-Mère-Église, was snagged on the church steeple and hung there pretending to be dead for two hours before the Germans captured him. He was portrayed by Red Buttons in the film. Many in the unit were less fortunate, landing in trees and being shot before they could cut themselves down. The town’s claim to fame is that it was one of the first towns liberated in the invasion.
The assault on Pointe du Hoc was also featured in the film, with Robert Wagner leading the US Rangers in scaling the cliffs. Watching the film brought to life the events that occurred 70 years ago and gave me a deeper understanding of the sites I’ll see in a few weeks.
We’re touring Normandy on bicycles to combine my husband’s long-time desire to view the D-Day sites with our enjoyment of cycling vacations. Thankfully, this year’s trip is billed as less strenuous than the one last year to the Greek Islands, though there’s mention of “climbing up over the stunning Champeaux cliffs” one day. I’ll keep you posted on that.