How appropriate that I am writing this post just before Memorial Day, a day for remembrance of those who died in active military service.
The drive from Reims to Normandy was a long one – about 5 and a half hours. We only had ONE day in Normandy, so we needed to make it worthwhile. We got up at 5am and got on the road.
Evan is a fantastic European driver. He drove us around in Ireland, where they drive on the other side of the road, so I totally trusted him in France (they drive on our side). We had no GPS, so we were kind of just wingin’ it. We finally made it to Normandy, after a wild search for coffee and only getting on a few wrong highways.
Side note: Let me stop here and talk a bit about my knowledge of DDay, and when I got so into this. Two years ago, I knew the term DDay, I even knew the date (solely because it’s exactly one month before my birthday). I didn’t know nearly what I should have to be able to appreciate the men who gave their lives for our country that day. When we were planning a trip to France, Evan, the WWII buff, HAD to go to Normandy, which I was totally open to. However, I knew it wouldn’t be as meaningful for me to go there having such little knowledge, so I changed that. I bought the book “The Longest Day,” by Cornelius Ryan. I thought it was going to be a difficult book for me to get through, since my typical genre is love/romance/comedy. This book was amazing and I got completely absorbed in it. I learned so much, gained an interest, cried a lot, and could not put it down. This totally got me interesting in all things DDay, and WWII.
We went directly to Omaha Beach. My initial thought was how gorgeous it is. It’s a beach that people still utilize today – and it is beautiful. This made it very hard to imagine what happened here. There are memorials along the wall, explaining that day. On June 6, 1944, very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses (Germans) were unexpectedly strong, and inflicted heavy casualties on landing U.S. troops. Something I’ve never been able to get out of my head: the men who landed on this beach were so young. They were individuals, with lives and personalities, love and families. I can’t even begin to imagine the fear that they had on that boat ride from England to France. They gave their entire life to fight for what was right, to fight for America, and to give us, and our allies our freedom. As President Harry Truman put it:
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
Next, we went directly to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This took my breath away to see how many gravestones are here – over 9,000 Americans. They keep the grounds in immaculate condition. I was surprised that every stone has the name, and the troops are actually buried there. Previously, I thought it was just a memorial, but it is actually a cemetery and the gravestones have their name, which state they were from, the date that they passed, and which unit they were part of. There were a few we saw that the troop was unidentifiable, and the stone read “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” It was incredibly moving to be here.
“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”
General Mark W.Clark
Our final stop was Pointe du Hoc, where U.S. troops did what was considered the impossible and entered the enemy territory by scaling the cliffs. The U.S. bombed this area five times before DDay, and the massive holes from the explosions are still there today — they are everywhere.
It made me incredibly proud to be an American to see all of these sites. Many restaurants and homes in the Normandy area still today fly the American flag. It is amazing to think back to those dark days for the people in France, and how the flag gave them hope, and in the end gave them their freedoms back.
“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” — General John J. Pershing
Please take a moment this Memorial Day weekend to give thanks and remember the brave men and women who have given their lives for our country and our freedom.