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.

In this picture, and the two below, you can see the size of the craters. For perspective notice the people in relationship to the huge holes in the ground. And now add 30% as the craters have eroded and filled over time.

Omaha Beach: This was the sight of one of the largest invasions and over 3000 people lost their lives here. It’s very hard to imagine that now as it’s this beautiful, quiet, and peaceful place…but one can’t help but think that the peace now experienced here is a fitting tribute to all those young soldiers.
In the picture below, we’re all listening to Allen tell us about all the things that went wrong during this invasion – the weather didn’t cooperate, ships were off course, airplanes shrouded by fog, life belts were put on incorrectly resulting in the drowning of many soldiers. It was horrible.
Finally, the American Cemetery.
While the tour was fantastic – very informative and we were able to see the site of so much recent history – it really does bring home the fact that all war is awful. My pacifist tendencies have been strengthening over the past few years and this made real how high a cost war demands. And yet, in the wish for a more peaceful world, one cannot ignore the fact that evil exists, whether in the form of state-backed racism and totalitarian dictatorships, or in human greed and selfishness. And while I hate war, I have to honor the fact that millions of young men and women from around the world answered the call to stand up for what is good and right. Light shines brighter in the face of great darkness.

About Rebecca

Hi! After five years in Europe, I'm adjusting to life back in the US. I use this blog to record my adventures, post photos, organize recipes, and post about things that interest me.
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7 Responses to Normandy

  1. Bethy J says:

    Wow…I’m speechless…one of my favorite of your posts to date.

  2. Melissa says:

    Great commentary on such an amazing historic place in history. Evil is not talked about in most cultures, it is ignored or pooh poohed, but as you saw in Normandy, it truly exists. Thanks for sharing your time there!

  3. POP says:

    Thanks for the wonderful review and commentary of that special day we shared with you and Scotty. You captured it quite well……as you do most everything!
    Even while actually being there, at the end of the day, it is difficult to compress and comprehend everything that we were shown and told what occurred there. From a macro perspective ….. a titanic event, a world changer, to be sure, but what was at stake in the hearts of the individuals who fought there is hard to fathom, at least for me. I like this quote:
    “Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.”
    ― N.D. Wilson, Dandelion Fire
    Undoubtedly this rang true for thousands of brave men that day. The victory that was won was the icing on the cake. It should inspire us to stand today.

  4. Bethy Manor says:

    What an important day in the history of WWII. I look forward to experiencing it. Thank you for the wonderful coverage of this courageous time!

  5. marty says:

    looks like it was pretty windy when you were there…it was for me too… the first day i was there this past June 5! it was so wavy adn absolutely hurricane-like winds that i asked if the troops landed in such conditions. they didn’t. in fact, the original D Day invasion was planned for like June 4, but was postponed til June 6 due to the wind/waves…

  6. Pingback: A Year in Review | Paris at my doorstep

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