I was twelve years old when the radio announced that the Allies had launched the long awaited invasion of Europe that would ultimately lead to victory and the end of World War II. That day was June 6, 1944 and would come to be known as D-Day.
This June will be the 60th anniversary of that historic event.
I beg your indulgence as I begin the story, about one of the greatest assignments of my long career as a newspaper photographer.

By Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer (retired)


© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A dusting of snow coats the ground at the German fortifications and shore batteries at Longues sur Mer.
For the next few days, Jim Kindall and I traveled up and down the coast of Normandy in our rented car, trying to capture the the ghosts and memories of that D-Day in 1944. As we walked along the peaceful, hard packed sand of Omaha and Utah Beaches, we tried to imagine what it must have been like almost 50 years ago. It was now November and the cold wind blew in off the English Channel and the light grew weak by early afternoon. It was next to impossible to photograph anything that might resemble what happened on that “Longest” summer day in ‘94.
I shot frame after frame of anything that was left of the battles and we would return to our hotel, long after dark, tired and hungry. I would be bringing my unexposed film back to the paper to be processed, but I spent long hours, each night, checking my caption notes to make sure that I had all of the information that I would need. Kindall did the same with his notes and we would compare information and spellings to make certain that both of our stories jibed.

© Photo by Dick Kraus (self timer)
I sit in the window of my hotel room, going over caption information.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A souvenir stand sells D-Day memorabilia at Omaha Beach.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A rusting hulk of a landing craft still sits on the sand at Utah Beach.


© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
Mile markers set up by the advancing Americans show the slow and costly route inland from Utah Beach.

All of our efforts on this trip were to be used in a special edition about D-Day that would run in the Sunday paper on the weekend before June 6th, 1994; the actual 50th Anniversary of the invasion. Kindall and I wouldn’t be there to see the results of our work until later. We were going to be back in Normandy, a week before June 6th, to cover the special events that would take place to commemorate the invasion. And those stories and photos would be filed and transmitted back to our paper to be used on a daily basis.

But, for now, the story was just taking shape in Kindall’s mind. Over late dinners, we would talk about what we did each day and I would try to recall the photos that I had taken to determine which ones might be more relevant. Each day we would place a call to our desks, just to touch base and let them know how the story was progressing.

I had arranged with the proprietors of our little hotel, to reserve two rooms for us when we came back. We had learned that lodging was almost non-existent in Caen or anywhere in Normandy for the duration of the D-Day Anniversary. Huge numbers of American veterans and their allies would be flocking here for these ceremonies. Plus there were government and military officials and heads of state from the allied countries, and their entourages and security who would need accommodations. Throw in a tremendous media presence and you had a huge demand for every available nook and cranny. Our hotel hosts assured us that they would hold two rooms for us for the two weeks that we would be back in Caen.

One night, we got back to the hotel earlier than usual and I scoured the neighborhood to try to find a place where I could get my film processed each day, when we returned in June. Since I would transmit my photos back to Newsday, each night, I would need a lab that I could count on to be open late, when I returned from the battlefields.

I gave up on the first couple of film processing labs that I tried, mainly because of language problems. My lousy French was ok if I was asking for directions to the bathroom, but to try to explain that I would need them to stay open until I returned from the field and that I only wanted the film processed without the need for prints, was more than my weak French vocabulary could manage.

Quite frankly, I found that the French were rather standoffish. I have traveled to enough foreign countries to understand that being an American isn’t the key to being liked or understood in other lands. I’ve always despised being thought of as “The Ugly American” and I’ve always made an effort to appreciate the people and the culture of other countries. Whenever possible, I try to learn at least some basic words of the language wherever I am. And, in most cases I am rewarded by the locals making an effort to understand and help me. I have found that if I try to speak the native tongue, the locals suddenly speak English. But, with the French, nothing that I could do would soften their obvious dislike of Americans. It was almost as though they resented the fact that their prestige in the world had diminished and that the US, whom they had once assisted in our War of Independence from the British, had now become a world power and had, in fact, twice come to their rescue in two world wars.

I continued to try my hardest to be polite and civil, even in the face of some outright rudeness. I finally found a small Fuji shop a few blocks away that was owned and operated by a beautiful, young French woman with a lovely, lilting name. Marievann. She spoke English with a charming French accent and was pleasant enough to smile at my brutal attempts to speak her language. I explained who I was and what I needed from her lab in the way of flexible hours. I told her that there would be many nights where I wouldn’t get back to Caen until late in the evening and I would need to have my film processed while I waited. I offered to pay the expenses she would incur by staying open late and we came to an amicable agreement.

She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t require prints from my film until I explained that I would have a transmitter with me that would accept the color negatives that I would be shooting. With that problem solved, I then purchased from her, several lead lined film bags, with which to bring my current collection of exposed film safely through the airport X-Ray equipment.

One day we were put in touch with a Frenchman who, as a young boy, had risked his life in the service of the French Resistance during the German Occupation of France. We met André Heintz, who was now 73 years old. He had operated as a courier and took messages through enemy lines to other guerrilla units operating in Normandy. I photographed him while Jim Kindall took notes about his story. He described some of the ways he and other partisans fooled the Germans with counterfeit identification papers and documents.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
André Heintz, a member of the French Resistance, walks through the streets of Caen.

He described how they had made a simple short wave radio transmitter and receiver and managed to conceal it inside of a can of vegetables. Mind you, this was before the advent of transistors and miniaturized electronics. I remembered seeing this apparatus on display at the D-Day Museum in Caen, and I went there and photographed it.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
The spy radio used by the French Resistance, on display at the D-Day Museum in Caen.

The proprietor of our hotel mention to us, one day, that there was another American currently residing at the hotel. She was young woman who was an intern for the Fresno Bee in California. She was in Caen as part of an intern swap and was now interning for a local French paper. Interesting. Kindall and I looked her up and invited her to dinner that night. We were dining with the lovely young American woman who was one of the administrators of the joint French-American D-Day Museum.

We had a most enjoyable dinner and it was interesting to hear how these two American women coped with working in this French environment. We also learned about the famed Beaujolais wine of the region. I am not much of a wine drinker, but I learned that Beaujolais was a very seasonal wine and when the first of it appears in the early winter, it is a much sought after commodity. So, of course, we ordered it with our dinner. I found it to be much too tart for my taste, but then, as I said, I am not a wine drinker
This day happened to be my birthday, and I did wind up drinking more Beaujolais than I preferred, as my companions toasted my health and prosperity more than once. And, as it happened, the next day was Thanksgiving. The American staff at the Museum was throwing a Thanksgiving party for the French staff and the Americans were cooking all of the traditional holiday cuisine. There would be roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and apple cider. And, Kindall and I and the young intern were invited.

There was no day off for us, that day, however. Kindall and I still had work to do. We ranged up and down the coast, hitting more places that were important to the invasion.


© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
The graves of American GI's at the American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer.

At Gold Beach, which was in the British sector, we saw the rusting remains of the Mulberry Artificial Harbor that had been erected as a port facility to unload the hundreds of ships carrying war material to supply the invasion effort. These were huge, steel caissons that were constructed in England and towed across the English Channel and sunk, one next to another in the shallow waters, to provide docks and ramps to allow trucks and tanks to offload from the ships and drive ashore.

Fifty years later, there were still several visible across the hazy expanse of water. You could see whole sections rusted out of their sides and they undoubtedly now harbored schools of fish and other marine life. On this overcast day, there were Frenchmen casting their baited fishing lines from the shore.

In our travels, we passed through the picturesque village of Port En Bessin, where at low tide, any boat in the harbor is left stranded on the harbor bottom as the water ebbs. OK, this place had no significance to the D-Day story, but I had to stop and make some photos for myself


© Photo by Dick Kraus
Port En Bessin at low tide.

When we got back to our hotel later that evening, we showered and dressed in our finest and drove to the Museum to enjoy our Thanksgiving feast. The food was delicious and Kindall and I were truly grateful for this opportunity to celebrate what is normally a family occasion with this newfound family of Americans and French.

The next morning, there was a package in front of the door to my hotel room. It was a bottle of Beaujolais from our friend, the intern from the Fresno Bee. She had been sent to another part of the country and the wine was a birthday gift in appreciation of our friendship for the past few days. Kindall and I shared it when we returned to the hotel after a particularly long and grueling day.

© Photo by Dick Kraus (self timer)
Newsday writer Jim Kindall (at right) and I take a moment to snap a souvenir photo in the coastal town of Arromanch.

After a few more days, we took a train to Paris and boarded a plane for the long flight home. The first half of our adventure was almost over.




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