Remembering D-Day

16:30 Alyson Tart 0 Comments

As I mentioned, I'm trying to work back through my backlog of travels to fill you in. I'm not quite done telling my story of Jordan, but with the 70th anniversary of D-Day today, I decided to skip ahead and fill you in on a part of our France trip instead.

We went early in May to Paris and Normandy with Paul's brother and his wife; it's so easy to get to from London via the Eurostar, then we rented a car to drive out to the coast.

Our first day and evening in Normandy was spent around some of the important sites of World War II. We started off in Bayeux, famed for it's tapestry which dates back to the 11th century showing the Norman conquest of England. After viewing the tapestry, we wandered the old streets on a quiet Sunday morning, grabbing some coffee and crepes and settling in to watch time pass us by in typical French fashion.  The slow paced morning put is in the right, somber mood for the afternoon.

We had arranged a tour of the Normandy beaches through a tour company for the remainder of the day. While I'm all for independent travel, I decided this was a case where I wanted an expert telling me the significance and history of what we were looking at.  

After a brief start at Gold Beach, we headed over to Omaha Beach. It's now almost a resort town despite it's haunting history. A merry-go-round overlooks the beaches with tourists and families dipping their toes in the water, which 70 years ago to this day were filled by an army and everything that comes along with it.  They had build floating docks after the landings to help bring all the tanks and supplies onto the beach and we could still see some evidence of them to this day; even more can be seen with the right tide.  

You can see the edge of the artifical harbour out to the right
Next was a stop to the American Cemetery; unlike it's neighboring Omaha Beach, this is haunting. The design of the cemetery is beautiful, filled with trees, a large memorial upfront, and thousands of crosses and star of Davids commemorating those who died. Walking among those crosses help give a picture of the magnitude of loss in the war and their hometowns put into perspective how close to home this was for many people. While the beaches themselves were historical, this was an emotional experience.

To end our tour of the beaches, we went to Pointe du Hoc (to go to Utah beach, you'll need a full day). This was a strategic position from either side of the war, as the artillery there could be used to fire upon the beaches to the East (Omaha) and the west (Utah). To take control of this location, a battalion of US Army Rangers was sent. Before they would be able to reach the target, they had to scale cliffs of 100 feet.  Amazingly, despite the odds, they were successful, but it was a long battle and they were cut off from the rest of the army for 60 hours, meaning a lot of casualties.

One of the cliffs they climbed, erroded over time

In order to put the Rangers in the best position, there was shells fired from a boat in advance to help disarm the enemy, or at least have them give a bit of retreat. Because of this, the land is pockmarked, with deep dips in the land creating almost a lunar landscape. Unlike other parts of the area where the holes have slowly filled in over time, these remain, only now filled with grasses and flowers, the changes in depth the only reminder of what they had previously been.

On the walk back to the car, there were stories telling us the history of the brave Rangers who went on such a dangerous mission. These little personal stories help to paint a clearer picture of the war - they weren't just soldiers, but people like us including doctors, teachers, parents.

If visiting Normandy, I would highly recommend taking a tour of the area and the guide you have is key. We were lucky enough to have someone who had studied history and was a guide part time while he finished his book (about World War II), so he brought the history to life and answered every question we had. There's also lots of literature out that that can give you a better detailed background of the war. We were recommended D-Day which includes photos and videos from the war as well.

 One of the guns at Pointe du Hoc

Thank you to all the Veterans who fought for peace.

"They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate." 
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 6 June 1944


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