The Battle for Normandy

Today, (pretend it’s Monday) not only did The Steve bring out another revelation of the latest and greatest, but I spent the whole day on a tour of the Landing Beaches of Normandy of the Allied Forces during D-Day. Along with that, the sun finally came out for the first time since I’ve been here! The overcast clouds were getting to me anyway.

If you’re in Paris, have a copious amount of funds (such as myself, “Thanks, high-paying job!), and in need of a day trip, guide, meals, and nothing to worry about except getting yourself to their bus on time at 7 a.m., I recommend Cityrama in Paris. They lead tours all over France that are pretty enjoyable. I found them two years ago on a trip to the amazing Mont Saint-Michel and found myself using them again, this time for the D-Day Landing Beaches in Normandy I had wanted to visit for a while.

Driving out of the city of Paris after being there for a week certainly was revitalizing. And people were speaking English finally.

The Memorial Museum in Caen is an interesting tribute to the peace that surrounds the World Wars. The exhibits retrace the failure of the peace between the wars, the Weimar era, and it is in fact a tribute among many nations for peace after World War II.

Interestingly enough, we had lunch here at the same little corner that I had been two years ago with this touring company. One of the great things I love about tours like these is that there are an abundant amount of Americans. I got to meet newlyweds from Tennessee, a couple from Mississippi, a woman from Ohio, nice family from Chicago, and a faculty member from the University of Alabama. They were all a pleasure to talk to and get to know!

On Omaha Beach alone, there were 34,000 American troops that made their landing there, but even the 300 bombers hours beforehand could not tone down what lay ahead for the young soldiers. There are memorials all along the five sectors of the beaches; we stopped at Omaha, Utah, and Juno beaches.

However, nothing was more spectacular than the Normandy American Cemetery, adjacent to the Canadian and British ones. It happened to be the most beautiful weather one could ask for. This piece of oceanside land was given to the United States permanently by France. This was American soil. It was chilling.

Gotta hand it to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). They maintain beautiful cemetery and monuments dedicated to the troops in the wars of the twentieth century all over the world. I was able to visit Punchbowl Cemetery in Oahu last month, and now this.

After walking through the memorial museum on the grounds, you saw the memorial statue, ‘Spirit of the Youth’, and then the sea of gravemarkers simply flooded your sight. I believe the number was around 21,000 buried here. A portion of them marked ‘Here rests a comrade in arms, known but to God.

It was surprising to find out that in this part of France, there are actually more Germans buried here than all the allied troops put together. They number around 80,000, buried wherever their bodies ended up in.

On the way back, we drove through the countryside of Normandy and I could help but imagine the raining down of paratroopers, lines and companies cutting through the tall bushes and hedges as in the films I had just watched a few hours ago in the museum. Or for that matter, Band of Brothers. Can’t avoid throwing in Saving Private Ryan while your at it.

These are actual places that we read, watch and hear about. I was cruising on the highway right through them, munching on my exquisite dinner. I had a conversation with my teacher two years ago while spending two weeks out here in the countryside playing chamber music.  As we sat out in a field under the stars by the River Seine at the end of a long day, enjoying a cigar and wine (Nice huh? Better believe it; I don’t smoke though). Quietly, he just said, “Alex, look at that. Up there, this is where [the paratroopers] came down. Just out here, by these towns, in this field.”

The more astounding thing though? Life goes on. It has to. Farmers continue to farm as they did decades ago after rebuilding. They continue to farm as they did 70 years ago before the war. There are little stone memorials all throughout these fields and towns, but life goes on. Our tour guide joked, if they put a monument everywhere an event occurred in France, they wouldn’t have any place left to work, live and play! It’s probably the truth. Just look at Paris or Rome. All this to say, right on Omaha beach for example, there were a few local families with their kids playing in the sand and water, building sand castles, getting some sun.

This is the other side of the Parisian story of the 20th century. Often forgotten, taken for granted. In personal vengeance, Hitler’s acquisition of Paris was supposed to lead to its complete off-the-map destruction. You know, he had a bit of a grudge. Something about the German’s terms of agreement in some treaty of Versailles or something

Luckily, the Allies succeeded, arduously, in this battle for Normandy, France, and concordantly, European continent. We have a Paris, rich and full of tangible history in its buildings. To think, It almost burned.

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1 Comment »

  1. Michael Howell said

    Wow Alex! That had to have been an amazing day. I have to admit, I am quite envious of you right now. I honestly don’t care to see much of France (I’m sure i’ll go to Paris one day though), but the main place I want to visit are the Normandy beaches. The United States has been in several wars, but none were quite like this one. I could never imagine what it must have been like to be a soldier on that day in 1944. I’m glad you got to see it – next time I see you, you can tell me more about it!

    The other reason I’m envious of you is b/c I am in New York for an economics seminar. It’s been extremely boring – as the seminars last from 9 AM to 9 PM. I’ll tell you about it next time I see ya. Have fun in France, Alex!

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