Faint Memory of Blood and Triumph

One can’t talk about Normandy without mentioning D-day, and one of the first things that pops into my mind when I hear Normandy are the beach invasions. We’ve seen it in “Saving Private Ryan”, in all the reenactments, and in documentaries, but nothing compares to standing on the beaches themselves: the same beaches where thousands of soldiers died. Looking around, they might seem like ordinary beaches, except for the remnants of German bunkers scattered across the beaches. Each beach was significantly different from the other and tell different stories of sacrifice and success.

Looking down Utah Beach during low tide

Utah Beach during low tide.

Utah Beach, the place where even when things did go wrong, it still ended in favor of the Allies’ success. Utah reminded me a lot of beaches seen in places like the North Carolina coast, with sand dunes blocking the ocean from moving in further. Seashells littered the beach and even with the tide out, it didn’t seem like a large beach to begin with. At Utah Beach, the only thing that signified what had occurred was the museum that had been built on top of a Nazi bunker used during the war. The rest of the beach looked as though the sea had taken most, if not all, the evidence of the Normandy Invasion.

Looking down Omaha Beach while the tide recedes.

Omaha Beach where the 29th infantry division landed,  tide receding.

Not too far from Utah Beach is the infamous Omaha Beach. Omaha was completely different from Utah. Some of the larger differences between the two were Omaha didn’t have sand dunes like Utah, it met enormous bluffs right on the coastline, and it wasn’t hard to spot the remnants of the Atlantic Wall. The beach wasn’t at low tide, but it seemed significantly farther than Utah and to run from the beach to the bluff, with all the obstacles that were in the way, would have most definitely been nearly impossible. Two slots in the cliffs showed where the Germans had kept the machine guns that completely slaughtered the American soldiers that were on the beaches. There had to have been more than those two on that beach but they were well hidden by the shrubbery growing on the bluffs.

Looking down Omaha Beach in the direction of Pointe Du Hoc.

Omaha Beach, looking in the direction of Pointe Du Hoc.

The last beach I had the opportunity to see, although from a distance, was Gold beach. Gold was similar to Omaha with the bluffs but Gold has a town that runs right onto the beach. The presence of the Atlantic Wall was there but more hidden and overshadowed by the remains of the Mulberry Harbour that was used to transport most of the supplies for the Allied forces into France until months later when ports under German control are finally liberated. Seeing those slabs of one of the most amazing engineering feats of the invasion was mind boggling.

 

Arromanches and Gold Beach with remnants of the Mulberry Harbour.

Arromanches and Gold Beach with remnants of the Mulberry Harbour.

Each beach had an important role in bringing the Allies towards success in the Normandy invasion. Sadly walking around on the beaches doesn’t even begin to describe what had occurred over 70 years ago. The only way someone could truly grasp what happened was to be there on D-day. With the passage of time, the remnants of that bloody day are few and far. The Nazis are gone, and the tides have long since washed away the blood but the memories will forever remain. Today Utah, Omaha, and Gold appear nothing more than ordinary beaches; beaches with the faint memory of blood and triumph.

 

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