I've been meaning to share these photos with you since I took them. I wanted to make sure I had the time to tell the story and to remember with pride, the honour I had in meeting and photographing not one but two American D-Day Veterans. I was contacted by a wonderful organisation called 'Wish of a lifetime', who organise events for American and Canadian senior citizens. They were planning on granting US Ranger George Klein's wish to return to Normandy. He had planned to come to France for the 70th Anniversary commemorations but unfortunately bad health had curtailed his plans.
I was asked if I could capture George's first return trip to the Pointe du Hoc, the landing site where he and his fellow US rangers scaled the near vertical cliffs as their part of D-Day and also to capture his participation in the official ceremony where he was one of the honoured and revered veterans to participate in the commemorations. With the help of Wish of a lifetime, Chase and the WWII Foundation George's trip was organised.
It was planned to be an early start for George as he was being interviewed and filmed for an upcoming documentary, produced by the WWII Foundation. We organised ot meet at 7:30am, to avoid there being any other visitors. I decided to arrive even earlier to capture a few photos. Please believe me, it is quite an incredible site, visually, with all the bomb craters. To be their on my own just after sunrise was something I'll never forget, remembering all those who fought and those who didn't make it home afterwards. Yes, those are sheep. They live at the Pointe du Hoc as the very ecological grass-cutters, who are easily able to climb down into the craters that can be 10-15 feet deep. George and the lovely Rhonda arrived and we were introduced. It's a long walk from the car park to the cliff top area so George understandably chose to save his energy for later. When he rounded the corner and took in the sight of the craters and bunkers I think the emotion hit him (photo: right) and Rhonda stopped to give him a reassuring touch and a moment whilst he gathered himself. Throughout the encounter, having seen George's emotions right at the start, I decided to hold back (using a long lens). Not only was George being interviewed and filmed, but I felt that I needed to respect him, by providing him the space and time to take in his return to the place and to allow him his emotions, not forgetting that he is a gentleman over 90 years old as well as being a D-Day Veteran. George choose to quickly abandon the wheelchair, not just to be interviewed but to look around himself. As well as me and the film crew there was several others. I was very pleased that everyone respectfully stayed back allowing George the time and space he deserved. Let me tell you about a wonderful moment when George Klein met John Siewert from the USS Satterlee, the ship that anchored off Pointe Du Hoc and gave covering fire to help George and his men scale the cliffs. Not only had the men never met but I overheard George say he had always wanted to meet any one of the servicemen on the ship to have the opportunity to thank them for their covering fire, but in all the 70 years since D-Day he had never had the opportunity. Here was George on the very cliff tops that he had scaled and one of those very men arrived there too as part of his own return trip to Normandy. For me, this photo says it all... Everyone respectfully left the men to stroll away on their own to discuss their memories Can you imagine trying to scale these near vertical cliffs, knowing that you faced your enemy at the top. What courage...
As time wore on, visitors begin arrive to visit the Pointe du Hoc and these two men are present day US soldiers and were so thrilled to meet and have their photograph taken with a real life hero of the D-Day landings.
As part of the plans for the documentary George also had the opportunity to be taken by boat out to the bottom of the cliffs to continue his interview about his memories. I offered to also capture this part of his trip (on my time, as my gift, as I hadn't been asked to do this) but sadly the boat was too small to take us all.
So I said my goodbyes, thanking George not just for being happy for me to photograph him but also for his service. I'm lucky enough to be asked occasionally to photograph D-Day Veterans of the various nationalities that participated in those historic events i 1944. I always take the time to thank them as I appreciate that I wouldn't be a British photographer living with my family and working in Normandy if it hadn't been for those brave soldiers over seventy years ago. Thank you George Klein and thank you John Siewert.
Here in Part 2 discover photos of the official ceremony where George was guest/veteran of honour with participation of the present day US Rangers.
If you'd like to read a little about his involvement on D-Day you can read about it on the Wish of a lifetime page about George Klein's emotional return to Normandy
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