Friday, May 24, 2013

Normandie & The D-Day Beaches

A view overlooking Omaha Beach.
I don't know if any experience has ever made me feel as patriotic as our visit and stay in Normandie, France. Seeing the D-Day landing sites in person and getting a much-needed refresher of history lessons on WWII left me feeling so proud of our country and thankful for the contributions our soldiers have made, and continue to make, worldwide. It was gut-wrenching to hear stories of those who laid down their lives in battle, to look at the gorgeous beaches, sparkling waters and know that so much blood has been shed in that very place.

Of course, the battles took many, many lives, but some men drowned before they even reached the beaches. Others died of mistaken friendly fire. Residents of Normandie have not forgotten the American sacrifices made to liberate their country. It was awesome to see so much honor and respect, even still today.

We started our tour day with a stop at a German cemetery. Our guide was very knowledgeable (although hard to follow at times because she had a thick accent). The youngest buried at the cemetery was only 16 years old. Many Germans died fighting for a cause that they didn't necessarily believe in... they were simply ordered to fight.

The first beach we visited was Utah, the most "successful" of the landing sites - meaning that fewer lives were lost here than the other beaches... and the landing overall was more accurate. Our guide talked us through some of the D-Day landing strategies and intended targets for both boat and paratrooper landings. It's amazing that we were successful, considering the percentages of landings that were off-target. She even had some handy visual aides.

Next, we moved on to the small town of Sainte Mere Eglise, the first town liberated. During the time paratroopers were landing (they were supposed to be under the cover of nightfall) there was a house fire in this town, so the troopers were easily visible as they landed. Many were shot before they even reached the ground. One well-known story is about a trooper whose parachute caught on the steeple of the church. He hung there for hours, playing dead. Sainte Mere Eglise has a great little Airborn Museum that we spent about an hour visiting, as well.

This is not a metal plane! It's a glider lined with thick canvas... I wouldn't have wanted to land in one of these!

We also visited Pointe du Hoc. Grass has grown over the mounds and indentations from sea and air attacks, but the terrain still shows obvious signs from the battles. Other than monuments being erected throughout the various sites, they all remain pretty natural.

It was incredible to look down toward the sea and realize the overwhelming odds (of both nature and of battle) that faced soldiers climbing up to take the Pointe.

Our final beach stop was Omaha, followed by the American cemetery. Did you know that France gifted a small piece of land for the purpose of the cemetery? For a brief time, we were back in the USA!

Looking out over Omaha Beach from the American cemetery.

Gone, but never forgotten.