Normandy, France: The Land of Silent History

So, while in Paris,  Taylor and I decided to take a day trip to Normandy to visit the D-Day Beaches. It wasn’t something at the top of my list of things to do while in Europe, but I decided to go anyway. I’m actually very glad that I did, because it was a very moving trip. It’s one thing to learn about WW2, but to see where it took place with your own eyes is something else.

Getting to Normandy was pretty simple. We booked a train from Paris to Bayeux, which took about two hours. We also booked a tour in advance with a Normandy Sightseeing Tours company. Specifically, we booked this tour, which took us to Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and Pointe du Hoc.

Area of Omaha Beach that was bombed during WW2

Area of Omaha Beach that was bombed during WW2

Our first stop was Omaha Beach. On the way, our tour guide did a preface of what we would see: bombed land. And he wasn’t wrong. All along the area there were craters (as seen above). I really can’t imagine what it was like to be here on D-Day, because there was some serious destruction. What really shocked me was the fact that the German bunkers were basically untouched  (as seen below).

View of beach from German bunker.

View of beach from German bunker.

During the entire time, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the soldiers, American and German, to try to figure out what experiencing D-Day was truly like. Fortunately, our guide did a very good job at helping with this as he brought along a lot of pictures taken by journalists who insisted on being present during the battle. For instance, he told a story about how within the first few hours of landing at Omaha, American troops were able to find German canons in an apple orchard. Along with this, he shared how the Americans strategize getting onto the beach in the first place while maneuvering the traps set by the Germans, which couldn’t be seen during high tide.

Headstone

Headstone of soldier found without identification.

Afterwards, we were taken to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which was moving itself. Of all of the American soldiers who passed, 40% of them were buried on this foreign soil. One thing I found interesting was the fact that if the person was Jewish they were given a Star of David instead of a cross for their grave marker. However, something even more interesting was the inscription on a select few markers which reads “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” Unlike other markers, which list the person’s name, home state, date of death, and title in the military, this inscription is given to those who did not have any type of identity attached to their body when found. Heartbreaking, right? What’s even worse is the wall of names of soldiers who were deemed missing in action. In the picture below, this is only half of the wall.

This wall has a list of all soldiers missing in action.

This wall has a list of all soldiers missing in action.

The best part of visiting the cemetery was the visitor’s center. Here, they told the stories of various soldiers. One of the videos that were shown in the visitor’s center can be found here. Before exiting the center, they direct you to a room to read about those who were significant during the battles.

Experiencing this trip was nothing like any other. It was definitely different from going to a museum in Paris or the beach in Barcelona. There’s no herds of tourists with cameras or sign explaining every little detail you see. Sometimes, things like this are forgotten about during travels to Europe because we get distracted with all of the ‘must-see-actvities’. It’s definitely something you have to appreciate.

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