Normandy 70th Anniversary of D-Day June 6, 1944-2014

 

Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc (Photo credit: Gérald Lechault)

I visited the Normandy landing beaches on a cold, rainy, miserable day, a day much like the stormy dawn when 200,000 Allied personnel debarked on D Day, June 6, l944. A fitting day for remembering the 10,000 Allied soldiers who died on the “longest day” of war.

Normandy Invasion, June 1944 U.S. Army Rangers...

June 1944 U.S. Army Rangers storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A half-century after the Rangers overtook the strategic German lookout at Pointe du Hoc, I stood on the steel reinforced bunkers and peered over 100-foot drop off above the English Channel. I could picture a 19-year-old American boy jumping out of a PT boat into icy waters illuminated by gunfire. I could imagine him staggering across the dunes dodging bullets, clawing at the red cliffs, crawling through the hedgerows, groping for life in a foreign land. He was one of ours. Disorientated in fields criss-crossed by trees and hedges, trying to maneuver tanks through stone villages, shooting at the shadows that could be his own comrades, he was an American soldier killing Germans who could have been friends in another time and generation.

IMG_3294

Normany – fields through hedgerow (Photo credit: Gérald Lechault)

I am of another time and generation, an American with French-Normand spouse, and German friends. Knowing the fair-minded, kind-hearted, Europeans as I do now, I cannot fathom how such an atrocity could occur. The war-ravaged countryside is not the Normandy I know. On rainy days, Normandy’s landscape may offer a bleak reminder of her sad past, but on sunny ones the murky coastline, black sea, and gray fields are transformed into a tapestry of colors. The beauty and tranquility of Normandy today in a ray of sunshine could drive full-grown men to their knees in tears. I, too young to have understood the impact of WWII, get a lump in my throat every time I return to the land of my in-laws in northwestern France.

Today the sacrifices of the men of WWII, their silent testimonials of white crosses lining the hills above the famous beaches Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword and Omaha hold special meaning. My countrymen, laid to rest in my adopted country, saved my family.

If those soldiers were to land on the Normandy beaches this June, they’d be surprised. Parasols have replaced Rommel’s asparagus (spiked metal posts preventing ships from landing). The 400 miles of wide white sand and dramatic cliff line extending from Le Treport in the east to Mont St. Michel in the west, is strewn with half-naked, live bodies worshipping the sun and sea.

Millions of visitors follow the “circuit du débarquement” along the coast from Pegasus Bridge to Cherbourg stopping at every WWII historical spot and all eight museums. The one in Arromanches gives a general overview and explains how the artificial port was made. The Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux, containing ration tins, tattered letters, faded photographs, and other mementos of WWII foxholes, is the most affecting one.

Colleville cemetery

Colleville American cemetery (Photo credit: Gérald Lechault)

In Upper Normandy, my late grand father-in-law, Marcel Elie, a Gendarme, used to welcome me to his home in Dieppe by greeting me at the door playing the American national anthem on his trumpet. He blew that same trumpet while riding his horse leading the Allied troops down the Champs Elysees celebrating the liberation of Paris on August 24, 1945.

Unknown soldier

Unknown soldier – Colleville American cemetery (Photo credit: Gérald Lechault)

His old heart never forgot. Now, even though my generation never knew the horrors of world war, I too, will remember. When I stood in front of a field of 10,000 stark, white crosses, I felt overwhelmed by a debt that I can never repay. I know the Unknown Soldier. He is my father, my brother, my countryman, who died so nobly, so that today I might live in peace in a land whose splendor offers its own thanks to the skies.

Rest in peace my comrade in arms. You have not died in vain. If my words could transcend time you would know that because of you Normandy today, like the true Normans, remains proud and gracious.

Enhanced by Zemanta
close
We keep your data private and share your data only with third parties that make this service possible. Read our Privacy Policy.
Consent *
Posted in inspiration.

16 Comments

  1. Oh Pat, this was such a beauty, making me reflect deeply with tears welling… Your genetic and fate-filled path is so linked with France and so this really was a sweet and bitter taste all at once. Miss you dear soulful friend, love Rach xxx

    • Yes, Rachael, I have often contemplated this fate-filled path. Alas with my Norwegian roots, perhaps, 2 Vikings were destined to meet. Always appreciate your comments. Miss you, too.

  2. Beautiful. We felt the same on our trips there, though we could scarcely express it so eloquently! My dad just went back with a neighbor, and if he weren’t 75, he’d go again and again.

    • If only there were a direct flight and few less hours in journey. My folks loved to visit Normandy, too, but can no longer endure that cross Atlantic trip.

    • I hope one day you will be able to visit Normandy for it is truly a memorable experience and the food there is some of France’s finest.

  3. What a lovely tribute, Pat. You’ve said so well what all of us feel as Memorial Day celebrations wrap up — best of all, you’ve said it from the unique vantage point of being an American living abroad. It sounds like a beautiful countryside, one I’d like to visit some day!

    • After having been a part of German team and living as a guest in their beautiful country, I truly could not get my head around the fact that the two European leaders had been at loggerheads for so many years. I was blessed to grow up during the time I did and to have my life enriched by these experiences.

  4. Pat, I always tear up whenever I hear WWII stories because it reminds me of my beloved father who modeled patriotism his entire life. This is a beautiful tribute to our country,the young men who died fighting for our freedoms and to Normandy and its people. To hear it from your ex-pat point of view made it even more special. Your descriptions and photos bring me right there. Bittersweet and lovely. Your words never fail to touch me deeply.

  5. You have described some of the emotions I experienced when we visited Normandy a few years ago—-and the World War I battlefields in Flanders Fields in Belgium. We recently watched the History Channel series that traced the years between World War I and World War II, positing the thesis that they were, in fact, the same war that actually lasted for 30 years. Like you, it was difficult to get my head around the current day reality of visiting European countries that really no longer have borders (as far as visitors are concerned) since the establishment of the EU and the monstrous butchering of each other that did not end until 9 years before I was born.

    • Even though having family in Normandy, I had visited the area countless times, I was stunned by the impact of emotion I felt when I stood in the Colleville cemetery and saw all those white crosses. Indeed, you are right the war between France and Germany especially over that strip of land in Alsace went on for decades. Fortunately today, they remain loyal allies.

  6. Dear Pat,
    this is a special article to me. Being a German born after WW II I am still thankfull and always will be for those american, british and french soldiers, who gave me the chance to grow up in a free Germany.
    Tom from Marburg

  7. A moving tribute. Thanks for sharing how the beauty of a country can stand even during aftermath of War.

    Blessings,
    Clara.

    • Parts of France were destroyed during both world wars, but other parts remain as they have been for centuries and the resiliency of the French endures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.