Hello Friends and Family,
I have had the most remarkable past couple of days. The sun has come out and warmed up our town, and it has been beautiful. It also made for great vacation weather. This past weekend, Korrin and I traveled up to Normandy to visit the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery. While we were there we also saw Sainte Mere Eglise which is the first French town to be liberated by the Americans, and we went to Pointe du Hoc where the US Rangers landed on D-day. This is the second time I’ve traveled to Normandy. The first time I visited with my family back when I was in ninth grade, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. This time was nothing short of amazing once again. I’ve had a hard time getting this blog started because I’m not quite sure how to put my experience into words. It was incredibly overwhelming, totally moving, and interestingly peaceful. It was so special to share this experience with Korrin because this is a big “bucket list” trip for her, and I know she loved it just as much as I did. We’ll cherish these memories forever.
When we first arrived to Normandy we went to a town called Bayeux. It’s a quaint little town with a massive cathedral and beautiful architecture. It’s only about a twenty minute drive through the country side to get to all the main D-day attractions from Bayeux. Big thank you to my dad for recommending to us to stay in this town! In Bayeux we first went to the tourism office to get maps, info, and find a hotel. The lady there was so helpful, and we ended up getting a great hotel that had a view of the town’s Notre Dame Cathedral right out our window! Korrin and I have pretty great traveler’s luck (knock on wood)! One funny thing the lady said to us in response to one of our questions about Omaha beach was ‘You have to understand, that to us this is our beach that we go to for vacation in the summer.’ We were both pretty surprised by this because to us Omaha beach is hallowed grounds and holds so much meaning.
American Cemetery and Omaha Beach
Our first stop was at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It sits atop the bluffs that overlook Omaha Beach. If you’ve ever seen “Saving Private Ryan” then you’ve seen some shots from this area, specifically the long path covered by trees that gives you a birds-eye view over Omaha Beach, the deadliest beach of D-Day. The American Cemetery has done a fantastic job with their on-site museum that you go through before entering the grounds. It helped us get in the mindset of what this war was like for the soldiers, and what the conditions were like leading up to D-Day. I was very interested by all the planning and work that went into selecting June 6, 1944 as the big day. They planned the attack because of the full moon and low tide that would help the Allied forces. Also, there was a lot of sabotage going on behind the scenes trying to keep the German army guessing about where the Allies would attack. In the museum they had an example of a dummy that the Allied forces used. This dummy was made of burlap-like material and stuffed to look like a human. The Allies put parachutes on these dummies and dropped them from the sky miles away from the Normandy beaches to make the Germans think that we were attacking there and distract them. That is just one of the many examples of the lengths we went to in order to throw off the opposing forces.
At the exit of the museum that leads you out to the cemetery there was this quote etched onto the wall that moved me: “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. These brave men, most of whom were only between the ages of 19 and 23, gave up their lives to end this unbelievable Nazi tyranny. They fought for freedom, for a cause. Their sacrifice that day allowed the Allied forces to gain control in France, completely changing the tides of World War II. They gave up their lives so that we are all free to live ours.
As Korrin and I entered the cemetery we were utterly overwhelmed. The well-manicured green lawn was covered by a sea of Latin crosses and Stars of David. There are 9,387 graves. 9,387. As I looked out at all the headstones my eyes stung with tears thinking of what happened here. Looking down at the water of Omaha Beach from where I stood I started to think, just over 70 years ago this was a site of complete tragedy and bloodshed, yet also victory. It’s hard to imagine that tragedy and victory could coincide like that, but standing there overlooking the thousands of graves I began to understand. As I took it all in I felt such incredible sadness for the lives lost, and at the same time I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. When I closed my eyes I could hear serenity: birds singing, the ocean breeze passing through the trees, American flags flapping in the wind, and waves meeting the shoreline down below. It was tranquility at its finest. When I opened my eyes I could see the sun beaming down upon these brave soldiers’s final resting place. It was a strange thing to feel so at peace in a place where there was once such turmoil. Everyone is free to believe in what they want to believe in. For me, I believe in God, and I felt Him there that day looking over our fallen soldiers.
Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc is by far the most incredible thing I have ever seen in my life, and I don’t say that lightly. This piece of land juts out into the ocean, and there is no coastline or beach at the edge…it’s a straight 90 foot drop down to rocks that meet the choppy waters. This place was a strategic site for the German army. To this day, you can climb on top of and into the concrete German artillery bunkers, and see where their long-range 155mm artillery weapons were located. These guns could rotate to shoot at both Utah and Omaha beaches, where Allied forces planned to attack. So it was absolutely crucial that these weapons were taken out and could not be aimed at our troops. This job was given to the US 2nd Ranger Battalion. Just before midnight on D-Day the US Navy began shooting upon Point du Hoc from the USS Texas to provide cover for the Rangers who had to scale the 90 foot cliffs while facing enemy fire. I mean to even picture that happening while standing on these cliffs is unreal.
The sheer strength, bravery, and indomitable will that must have taken is beyond me. Standing on top of the intact German artillery bunker and looking out over the area of Pointe du Hoc all I could see were massive craters. These craters are from the bombs that the USS Texas shot off during D-Day. It was the most incredible thing to get to run down into these craters. I kept pinching myself thinking about how I was standing in a crater from a bomb launched by the Allied forces on D-Day. What?! The sheer size of these holes in the ground gave me an idea of just how powerful those bombs were, and yet the bunkers still with-stood the force. Over 200 US Rangers started that mission, and it took two days for them to gain complete control of the area. They fought for two days in the most unreal conditions and never gave up. By the end only 90 soldiers were still able to bear arms. Just like at the American Cemetery, I stood there and could only see beauty. Korrin and I were there for sunset, and the sky was filled with hues of yellows and purples and blues. It was majestic, and as the sun sunk behind the cliffs I stood in awe of this land and what happened here. We just kept looking at each other and saying ‘I can’t believe it.’
Sainte Mere Eglise
This was the first town liberated by the Allied forces. On the night of June 5th paratroopers of the 101st Screaming Eagles and the All-American 82nd Airborne Division (from Fort Bragg, North Carolina!) jumped out of their planes to take over this town. The take-over of this specific town cut off a major communication highway that the Germans used, therefore not allowing the Germans to relay information about the incoming D-Day attacks on the beaches. There are so many incredible things about this town, but I’ll share my “big three”.
1. As one of the paratroopers, John Steele of the 82nd Airborne, sailed down into Sainte Mere Eglise his parachute got caught on the steeple of the church in the center of town. So he was still alive but hanging from the church. Meanwhile, the German soldiers were taking cover in the steeple of this church looking down at him. Eventually they cut him loose and took him as a prisoner of war, but he was later freed when the Americans took over the town that day. To commemorate that day, the town has hung a mannequin/dummy attached to a parachute that is hanging from the steeple of the church. So it really looks like John Steele up there.
2. Just across from the church where this battle took place there is a metal fence that is still fully intact from D-Day. If you walk along this fence you can see bullet holes and marks from where the bullets flew by and dented the fence. It is remarkable to touch these indentations and know that they were caused by bullets fired on D-Day.
3. In the town, right where the paratroopers landed there is an incredible Airborne Museum. Here in this museum there are life-size air planes modeled after the ones the paratroopers jumped from. Also, the museum holds an awesome collection of WWII memorabilia. Some of my favorite pieces were: cigarette containers recovered from the town that were from North Carolina called “Sir Walter Raleigh” cigarettes, there were actual soldier’s helmets that had bullet holes ripped through them, a dollar bill that had been ripped up into three pieces by three friends as they flew in for D-Day and all three pieces were pieced back together at the end of the war, and they had a whole section of notebooks and artifacts from the Nazis as well. One part of the museum was like a big simulation where you feel like you’re a paratrooper on the plane. When you “jump out” of the plane you feel wind blowing on you and the lights are flashing and there are sounds of bombs going off. It is absolutely wild!
Our trip to Normandy was an incredibly moving experience. It was a complete honor to be able to go to these sites and take it all in for a second time. It is an experience I won’t ever forget. I want to leave you with a quote by the General of the Armies, John J. Pershing, to remember our courageous soldiers who gave up so much for us back in 1944…
“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”