On Wednesay, we got up at 5AM and boarded a 2.5 hour train out to Normandy. Mom had arranged a tour for us with Allan Bryson, a WWII expert and enthusiast. The tour took us from Ste. Mere Eglise, to Bocage, to Utah Beach, to Point du Hoc, to Omaha Beach and concluded at the American Cemetery. It was amazing, overwhelming, and shocking. The stories related to Allan from WWII veterans were heartbreaking, harrowing, awful, and courageous. It is a strange experience to walk through countryside that is beautiful and pastoral but still bears the scars of war. Seeing the battlefields where so much blood was shed and knowing the high cost of defeating true evil is sobering.
Here’s what we saw.
Stop One: Ste. Mere Eglise, site of air landing by American troops on D-Day. One got tangled in the church steeple, as seen below. This little town appears very much as it did back in 1944, according to our guide, and is also home of the Musée Airbourne – a fascinating museum where one could spend hours. It was here that we also learned that the Canadian military forces were some of the fiercest and most determined. Apparently, they were the only nation not to enforce a draft during the war and their armies were made up entirely of volunteers. The British, in classic commonwealth fashion, sent them in first whenever a difficult task was at hand. Again, this was according to our guide.
Stop Two was Utah Beach. Here we learned about one of the few places the invasion went as planned – well, according to Allen, it didn’t but it worked out. Casualties here were limited and the beach was taken quickly. Today it is a beautiful beach…but apparently one should not climb the dunes as there can still be land mines and explosives.Our third stope was Point du Hoc – for me this was the stop that stuck with me the most as the scars of war are still very much apparent. Huge craters from shelling still mark the land over 70 years later. The German outposts here were built using slave labor – millions of people from eastern Europe were shipped to the western front in order to build fortifications and bunkers like these here at Point du Hoc. They were worked until they died and were then unceremoniously dumped inside the concrete of whatever bunker they were working on. One study estimates that an average of 15 slaves are buried in each bunker. This was also the site were US Rangers defeated the Germans in hand-to-hand combat using tomahawks. It was brutal.