September 28.

We want to see it for our fathers.

We want to feel it for our ancestors.

The name means different things for different people and from different countries. The name “Normandy” for an American conjures up images of D-Day via “Saving Private Ryan” with Tom Hanks or possibly “The Longest Day” with John Wayne. The minds’ eye presents different images depending upon our familial history as well. If my grandfather fought during WWII, my images will be different than the next person who has only read about WWII in dry textbooks.

If I’m von Deutchland, the idea of D-Day history is very different from that of someone from the US, France or Britain, as well. We must always remember that for each person there is a different perspective on something as immensely huge as the history of WWII.

Everybody has a story.

I want to know more about what happened in WWII to learn more stories. Easy to identify, but more difficult to define [for me, in the scope of a mere blog!], WWII most certainly had a larger impact on the last generation, but the ripple effect is alive and well. As a matter of fact, I think as an American in the 21st century it’s easy to not think about the sacrifice of others for what we call “normal life” now because the reminders are fleeting and farther away.

So-while in France-we just had to go see the beaches at Normandy. We wanted to see the places where the fate of our world history-from varying perspectives-was altered.

Now, you can certainly look up more detailed history most anywhere, but to follow will be various “refreshers” in no particular order.

The US joined the war in 1941-after Pearl Harbor- against the presidents’ preference at that.

In the Old Testaments’ story of the “Tower of Babel”, all the people were put to a task together, which was to reach the heavens. According to the bible, God wanted to disrupt the construction of the tower, so He made all the people speak different languages. Thereby, the people argued and disagreed and the Tower of Babel was never completed.

So it went ever since, one could say .

D-Day, June 6, 1944, had been in the planning phases long before. One of my favorite gems from our tour day was about a total and complete trick on the Germans.

See right side of map, above Hardelot, where the channel looks very slender? This is where we wanted the Germans to think the attack would be, not further south at Normandy.

The allies had comprised this grand scheme to make a mock army battalion in South East England on the English Channel. For a year they constructed fake ships out in the water, created a mile long stretch of tents and other insinuations of an encampment. They then invited a German officer to lunch, and ‘happened’ to take him on a Jeep tour of the allied camp, knowing full well that this German officer would then return to his country and tell his superiors about the massive camp. Sound uneventful so far? Well, hold on. Take a closer look at the provided map.

What this effectively did was keep the German forces stronger much further North of where the American and British forces were planning their D-Day attack, the beaches of Omaha and Utah, thereby making for a better chance of success, which indeed, ultimately was attained.

I’m not here to teach you history, though.

I’d rather share what I thought and felt while we had our very memorable one-day whirlwind tour of the area. [Which, incidentally, occurred quite serendipitously. We were on the ferry across the channel and someone overheard us deciding if we needed a map of France and that we were considering going to Normandy… and finally when he heard “Normandy” he politely interrupted us to say “You really must have a map”. And thus we met Tim from England whose grandfather flew on D-Day for the US army and dropped the paratroopers over the very area we were hoping to visit,and we decided that the best way to see the area with as little time as we were going to take for it would be with a knowledgeable guide http://www.advancebattlefieldtours.co.uk/ and so we did]

Climbing the old structures at what was intended to be Utah Beach.

Omaha Beach

Lovely view to the east of Omaha Beach on a peaceful evening.

D-Day at Normandy

One image of the mayhem on D-Day. taken from Wikipedia

The participants on all sides of this war gave the ultimate sacrifice of the willingness to die for their country in order to defend her.

Roadside demarcations

That we never forget.

Everywhere in the area there are little markers, roadside stops, photos at intersections, and other types of memorabilia that demarcate what happened on that fateful day. In front of an assortment of buildings there are black and white photos of bombed out skeletons of said structures, for many years all safe and sound again. There are black and white photos of streets in small towns shortly after D-Day. Many of these posts are there so that those who go to pay their respects can compare and contrast and get a small inkling for what went down that fateful day.

Memorial to Paratroopers

This amazing diorama sculpture shows great detail of when the paratroopers landed in this area.

There are cafe’s named “D-Day” [or Jour-J] Cafe or Brasserie.

Take a close look at the amazing detail of paratroopers!

There is a huge stained glass window with parachutists in the church in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sainte-M%C3%A8re-%C3%89glise

that was at the heart of the action. There are statues of soldiers from different countries. There are flags flying on many street corners: I’ve seen the US, French, German, and British flags.

This memorial commemorates the ordeal faced by one paratrooper [Scene also in “The Longest Day” with John Wayne]

There are museums and more museums. There are museums with tanks pulled out of the channel, and museums named for their location, for example “Dead Man’s Corner Museum”, where a man had his tank fired upon and it caught fire. He only escaped out of the tank halfway before being shot at and killed before he was able to completely exit and clear the burning vehicle. There’s more to the story, but you get the idea.

I couldn’t help but think how strange it must have been growing up on the actual ground where D-Day occurred.Machine gun bullet holes on side of a barnI mean, reminders are everywhere. Tanks, statues, soldier memorabilia, flags, road signs, names of shops, names of places, machine gun bullet-holes in the sides of buildings…

Bullet holes close up

Perhaps it was from a moment when the US soldier followed a German who crossed in front of this building. We’ll never know for sure.

I would imagine one can’t easily forget.

The American cemetery sits on a sloping hillside overlooking the English Channel. It is huge. The white crosses stand soberly as far as the eye can see. I wandered around solemnly, reading names, home states, and days of death of the Americans buried here. There is Lewis North, from Idaho, whose name-respectfully- strikes me as a little redundant. There are many others. Too many. I saw quite a few who died on June 6, 1944. They barely made it off the boats that brought them ashore. Many soldiers on both sides were lost that day, and here the majority of the Americans rest. Others died in July, some in August. Almost all the Americans buried here died between D-day 1944 and sometime in 1948.

American Cemetery, Normandy

The crosses go for miles and miles. For each cross a family was affected by the death of someone they loved. For each cross a whole lifetime was lived, whether it was an 18 year old life or a 22 year old life. While the majority are obviously men, I did find one woman’s name. Elizabeth, who worked with the Red Cross. Aisle B21.

US soldiers RIP in Normandy

It was a somber affair, visiting the cemetery, but it felt important, necessary. I would have had to do more research ahead of time to find out if anyone I knew of personally were buried here, but just reading their names and sending them prayers and thank you’s felt like enough for today.

Our day culminated in a stroll on Omaha Beach, where the majority of the action occurred. Again, as earlier in the day, I breathed deep and tried to consider just a bit what it must have been like way back on D-Day. The long sandy beach was now white, clean, and quite lovely in the late afternoon sun. I’m certain it didn’t seem this way on that fateful June morning.

Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach, Normandy

This evening, a gentle wind blew above serene blue water: I’m confident that on D-Day the blood stained waters were noisy and chaotic with a cacophony of mayhem.

I considered what it must have been like for those who fought in the war and on these beaches to have lived through it and returned year after year in honor of their fallen brothers. It sounded like many retired servicemen returned-some yearly- to honor their lost friends. I have nothing to compare it to, but the emotion in the air seemed attainable, palpable.

Tim showing us one of his many detailed maps of the area.

Our guide Tim was extremely passionate about the topic and truly knew his stuff. “You really need at least a week to do Normandy correctly”, he lightly admonished a time or three; usually as he was giving us the cliff-notes version of an event as we drove by a notable location. He had more information than I could fit in my brain. It was intriguing to hear story after story of personal tales, accounts , and information from him. He was history-professor-esque in his uncanny retention for names, dates, and locations. My brain was definitely supersaturated by the end of the day.

The experience was a whirlwind of historical facts and information that we had only read about for years in dry textbooks produced by capitalist publishing companies with a very limited perspective. The amazing third dimension was added by walking upon the same soil where it all occurred. Varying perspectives were considered and presented by a wonderful guide who represents both the British and the American forces [His grandfather hailed from South Carolina, and his own parents sent him to boarding school in England where he later joined the British Army]. We left our experience with the hopes of returning someday, most certainly with more time!


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