The beaches of Normandy.
Omaha. Utah. Juno. Gold. Sword.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what D-Day was. Maybe I was that kid – the one obsessed with history – but I remember pouring over pictures of World War II and searching the faces of the soldiers who sat in the boats waiting to disembark. I’d stare at them and wonder what they felt and if they survived. I marveled at their bravery and cried sometimes when I thought about their fear.
One of the main things I’ve wanted to do since arriving in Paris is visit Normandy, so yesterday, Bug and I drove the boys to the coast. Our first stop was Le Mémorial de Caen. Here we found a detailed exhibit of life in Europe, America, and Japan from World War I up to post-World War II. Pudge, having studied World War I and the period leading up to the Second World War, impressed Bug with his knowledge and helped me guide his younger brothers through the start of the exhibit. The museum has a “children’s room” where parents can leave their kids, but we decided against it, wanting our kids to learn about the horrible impact of war. While our boys did fine in general, the part discussing the Holocaust was difficult for The Fox. He kept asking if he’d be safe, why didn’t anyone try to save the kids, and why didn’t anyone stop the Germans from hurting all those people. Tough questions and I’m not sure I gave the best answers.
The German Cemetery at La Cambe was nearby, so we headed there. The boys immediately scrambled to the top of the monument (there are stairs in the back) while I wondered around.
I know the Germans were the aggressors, but as I read the grave markers, I noticed that most of fallen soldiers were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old, and my heart broke. They were boys, probably off on a grand adventure, not fully understanding what they were signing up for, or even the politics behind it.
Our next stop was La Pointe du Hoc. If you have a chance to visit Normandy and want to see – really see – the effects of the bombardment, visit this place. Artillery craters, while now covered in grass, dominate the landscape.
Broken chunks from concrete bunkers litter the bluff and rebard pokes up randomly from the walking paths. The command center still perches over sheer cliffs that American Rangers scaled under heavy gunfire with rope ladders. To everyone’s surprise, the Rangers took the cliff faster than anticipated, secured the site, and were able make sure the guns (which turned out to be nothing more than logs) wouldn’t be fired on nearby Utah and Omaha beaches. It was a huge strategic win for the Allies on that long day.
After leaving La Point du Hoc, we drove to Omaha Beach. It wasn’t anything like I expected. People frolicked on the beach, fancy ocean front homes lined the area, and tourist shops dotted the street along the main drag. I know that time marches on and it’s been nearly seventy years, but to me, it felt a lot like building a house on a graveyard.
We next drove to the Musée Mémorial d’Omaha Beach. Here, the boys spent a great deal of time studying the exhibits of American GI gear, guns, and ammo, as well as a breakdown of the D-Day’s events on Omaha. Bug and I read the first hand accounts from survivors and studied an impressive collection of pictures from the invasion and the liberation.
It was a long day, but one I know none of us will ever forget.