June 6, 2019 is the 75th Anniversary of D-Day…the landing of the Allies on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. In a series of brief posts, Bill and I remember the highlights of our visit to Normandy in June 1994 for the 50th Anniversary.
At sea on the Royal Viking Sun, May 24-June 4, 1994 – The majority of passengers on the Royal Viking Sun were World War II veterans; some with spouses, some without. The veterans were mostly Army, who had served in the European theater and participated in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. During the fourteen days at sea, passengers got to know one another and memories were shared – sometimes.
One evening at dinner, a tablemate took out an old, wrinkled photograph from his wallet and showed it to Sandra. In the photo, he was pointing his rifle at a half-dozen or more German prisoners who had their hands raised. “Do you remember what you were thinking?” Sandra said. (She hated when the media asked that kind of question, but she didn’t know how else to phrase it.)
“I don’t look it,” he said, “but I was scared to death.”
Another tablemate was with the heroic 2nd Ranger Battalion when they scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1944. He did not want to talk about that day – understandable, we thought.
On board were Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters and June Allyson. Ms. Andrews sang and signed copies of her book, Over Here, Over There. The ship’s orchestra played Big Band dance tunes from the Forties. Thanks to five lessons at Arthur Murray’s in Santa Barbara, Bill and Sandra danced every night. Bill had mastered a nice Rhumba that allowed me to show off my turns.
One afternoon in the laundry room, I noticed an elegant-looking man wearing a green t-shirt with “Val Verde” printed on it. “I live in Montecito,” I said, “and there’s a beautiful estate there named Val Verde.”
“Yes, I know. I own it,” said Dr. Warren Austin with a charming smile. He had served as a young Army doctor in the European theater and brought his 50-year old uniform with him to wear at the D-Day events. (See the upcoming June 5 post for a photo of Dr. Austin in his uniform.) After the cruise, Dr. Austin and I stayed in touch. I was a publicist for the performing arts and I credit this gentleman from the old school for giving me the best advice on how to deal with the media: “Always open the conversation with a compliment before you tell them what they got wrong,” he said.