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Only Azamara Cruisers in Normandy on D-Day

Tomorrow, on the shores of northern France, the free world will remember. It will remember that 70 years ago, armies of four nations (Great Britain, France, Canada and the U.S.) stormed the beaches of Normandy in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of World War II.

D-Day.

The armies left behind a trail of tragedy: thousands of dead soldiers, disabled and sunken vessels and code names that became familiar names of the beaches — Utah, Juno BeachJuno, Omaha, Gold and Sword — that are in the French vocabulary and on maps of France to this day. It is good to remember and, for those who still can, it is also painful.

And this has what to do with cruising?

Cruise ships occasionally land at Cherbourg, a pretty city not far from the beaches. Ironically, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day tomorrow, there will be but one ship in port: Azamara's Journey. Cherbourg isn't exactly a hotspot for cruise ships and only a handful of big ones are still on the schedule for 2014: Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, Holland America's Prinsendam, Celebrity's Constellation and two from Costa Cruises.

Our visit, four years ago, was during the Celebrity Eclipse's re-positioning cruise to begin its 2010 European season. It gave us a chance to do something we'd often talked about doing: visit the beaches.

They're up to 90 minutes from the port and the only way, really, to visit them is by renting a car. So we did, getting as far as Juno Beach, where we spent so much time Normandythat we barely made it back to the Eclipse before it left to cross the Straits of Dover. Both our fathers had crossed the ocean to fight in World War II and, while neither was in Normandy on D-Day — if they had, maybe we wouldn't be here — our visit made for a moving day in towns and villages occupied by people who never do forget.

Somehow, we don't think our Dads crossed the ocean in anything remotely resembling the palatial vessel that is the Eclipse. They certainly weren't sitting in a breakfast buffet 13 stories above the water wondering what kind of croissant to have with their coffee in the morning, and we can only guess they could likely feel every whitecap hitting the hull that encased their cramped sleeping quarters.

The Eclipse was in port for maybe eight hours. Tomorrow, the Journey will be in Cherbourg for 18 hours, from six in the morning until midnight.

On D-Day, how appropriate is that?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
4 nights
July 31, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Cozumel
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $99
www.royalcaribbean.com

Personal Touch to Transatlantic Cruise

Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on the Celebrity Eclipse, which arrived in Southampton early this morning, allowed us to do something special. No, not the wedding — our invitation never did arrive. The re-positioning cruise allowed us to take a ship “overseas” as both our fathers did almost 70 years ago, when they left home to help the free world stop a madman from Germany in what was already World War II.

Somehow, we don’t think our Dads crossed the ocean in anything remotely resembling the palatial vessel that is the Eclipse. They certainly weren’t sitting in a breakfast buffet 13 stories above the water wondering what kind of croissant to have with their coffee in the morning, and we can only guess they could likely feel every whitecap hitting the hull that encased their cramped sleeping quarters.

Yesterday, to get a small idea of what awaited them “overseas”, we headed for the beaches of Normandy when the Eclipse docked at Cherbourg, France even though we don’t know if either of them had ever been there. We do know that they were in the Canadian Army, and that there is a memorial saluting Canadian troops at Juno Beach, so named only because that was the code name Allied troops used on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The Juno Beach Centre was the brainchild of families of the 45,000 Canadian soldiers who died — many in Normandy, is a non-profit facility and is staffed by young Canadians in four-month shifts. Without Juno Beach, the now-pretty town of Courselles-sur-Mer wouldn’t have a pseudonym and people like us wouldn’t make the trek from 90 minutes away to try to remember.

Of the many fascinating and intriguing stories and artifacts, one really caught our attention.

It was about a man and a tank. To the best of our knowledge, there’s never been a movie made about Mac Dixon and The Bold but maybe there should be, because in his native land he remains something of an unknown soldier.

He was on the amphibious tank when it was hit by German fire and sank before reaching Juno Beach early that morning. Once The Bold filled with water he was able to escape, and be picked up by a vessel retrieving soldiers like him. However, that boat was also sunk by heavy artillery.

Nobody’s quite sure how, but Mac made it to the beach, where he picked up a German rifle and joined the fight with the Canadian infantry. Three months later, he was wounded in action somewhere else and hospitalized for two months. Upon his release, he jumped back into action in Holland and Belgium, returning home after the war ended about four months later.

After the war, The Bold was pulled up on the beach and today (above) it sits in the heart of Courselles-sur-Mer. While it lives in perpetuity, Mac ran out of lives, as everybody does, and died…55 years later.

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