Too much happened last weekend to be compiled into a single post, so stay tuned for Part II!
My travel buddy, Jackie, and I ventured off to Normandy (in NW France) for the weekend. When planning for the trip, we realized that the things we wanted to see were not all in the same place, so we had to find a relatively central location for our accommodations. We stayed in Bayeux, which was perfect! Our bed and breakfast hosts were so kind and generous in helping us figure out how to get to all of the places that we wanted to go. Something that I am quickly realizing, and struggling to get used to, is that the majority of transportation in France is North-South. It is so easy to get to Paris and to Marseille, but unless you have a car, it is pretty difficult to travel East-West.
For Saturday, we had booked an all-day tour of not only some of the D-Day beaches where U.S. troops landed, but also a couple of cemeteries, a museum, a town with a story, and La Pointe du Hoc.
The town with the story is Sainte Mère Eglise. Made popular by the film The Longest Day, Sainte Mère Eglise is home to a beautiful church that slightly interrupted the plans of some paratroopers the night before D-Day. The town is in the middle of Route Nationale 13, and the organizers of D-Day believed that Nazi forces would use RN13 in a counter attack. The job of the paratroopers was the take control of Sainte Mère Eglise and block the RN 13, so that the beaches would be protected. The idea for The Longest Day came from the story of one of the paratroopers whose parachute was caught on one of the spires of the town’s church. Now there is a fake paratrooper hanging from the spire.
The town is also home to a museum about all of the aircrafts used during D-Day and in the war in general. I think that anyone would find it interesting, but it’s especially cool if you happen to be the daughter of a man fascinated by Bernoulli’s Principle.
As we were leaving Sainte Mère Eglise, our tour guide pointed out the material that supported many of the hedges around the farm fields. During the war, temporary airfields had to be built, and in this part of Normandy, the ground is very soggy, so metal mesh was rolled out over farm fields to make it strong enough to support an airplane. However, there was not time during the war to recycle, so the airfields were just abandoned. Farmers from the area came by and cut off pieces of the mesh to be used as fencing, and those fences are still in use today.
The next stop was Utah Beach. Although it looked like most other beaches in the world, the history behind it was very interesting. The restaurant that we stopped at for lunch, called The Roosevelt I think, is famous for its bar which has the signatures of many of the soldiers who landed at Utah Beach on D-Day.
Next stop was La Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. This was occupied by the Nazis before D-Day, so there are quite a few old concrete bunkers around the area. Our tour guide told us that this land was flat before the war. All of the craters were caused by bombs. It’s amazing that almost 75 years later, we can still see the physical effects of the war.
The last stop was Omaha Beach. Just like Utah Beach, it looked a lot like a beach, but the history is amazing. Although casualties were high everywhere, the plan was especially disrupted at Utah and Omaha Beaches because winds blew the landing crafts east of their intended positions, causing the soldiers to undergo heavier fire than anticipated.
Disclaimer for the following paragraphs (and for all of my published writing): All opinions are my own. I have no intention of hurting or discrediting anyone’s feelings or ideas. I am aware that I have no right to speak on behalf of or assume the beliefs of anyone but myself.
WWII is the most fascinating historical event for me. I am so interested in all aspects of the war, the causes, the results, the effects on the individual countries, the strategies, the politics, everything. For this reason, I enjoyed the D-Day tour. It was informative and our tour guide was really knowledgeable about all things WWII. That being said, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the tour was catered to the ideals “American Exceptionalism.” The U.S. has some really great qualities, and it played a big role in the outcome of WWII, but I really don’t like the idea that it is a superior nation. For example, D-Day would not have been successful without the use of Canadian, British, and Australian forces, coordination with the French Resistance, and support from all of the Allied Countries. So from a historical standpoint, the tour was great, but I think it’s important to be conscious of all that happened during WWII.
It is also important to note the difference between Nazis and Germans. Conscription existed in Germany in the 30s and 40s, so all able bodied men were required to fight, whether or not they wanted to. I don’t believe that all men that fought for Germany in WWII supported Hitler. Yes, the Nazi ideology is bad. It is cruel, racist, and an unfortunate part of the past, but it is shameful to link it so closely with Germany. One of the most interesting parts of the tour was the visit to La Cambe, a German cemetery in Normandy. Over 21,000 German soldiers are buried there, and the average age is 19. That’s how old I am. That is incredible to me. These people still had families that were affected by them going to war. I liked that it was included on the tour because it helped to make the day less one-sided. Yes, one side overpowered the other, but I don’t believe that justifies constant shaming of the defeated, in any situation, not just WWII. It is important for people to learn about Nazi ideology and what it means because I believe that without education, history will just continue to repeat itself, but it just isn’t fair to group all of the conscripted German soldiers into the same group with the likes of Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and other Nazi figureheads.