The second stop on the trip was Bayeux, France. This quiet town was like stepping onto the set of a fairytale movie. Medieval style buildings lined the streets as well as quaint little shops and restaurants. The town atmosphere was very relaxed, as seen in the flexible hours of the shops and the friendly people walking through the streets. This set the scene for our activities of the tour.
In Normandy, we visited the beaches where the D-Day invasion occurred, which was an absolutely humbling experience. Getting to be on the beaches where such important events took place was more of a meaningful experience than any book could teach me. Not only did we see the beaches, but also the German, American, and English cemeteries. Going into the trip, I knew that the Normandy portion of the trip would be very personal and moving, but I didn’t think it would have as significant of an impact on me as it did. Seeing these cemeteries in person put into perspective for me how many men lost their lives for the war effort. Many of these men were around my age, and I cannot even fathom putting myself in their shoes and the anguish they must have felt.
Being at all the cemeteries, especially the American Cemetery at Normandy, and seeing what 9,000 graves looked like, made me think about the human devastation of the war on the largest scale and just how many that was. The cemetery was made up of ten sections, but seemed as if it went on forever. It was located on a hill overlooking the beaches, which was a popular place to sit and take in the views. Yes, I know that millions lost their lives, but just seeing the vast cemetery of 9,000 really put the number into perspective for me. Reading about the numbers in textbooks and hearing it in lectures made me rather numb to it. But the experience of these cemeteries was eye opening and now I understand just how much human life was sacrificed during the war.
We also had the opportunity to plant Ohio State flags at the graves of twelve fallen Ohio State students and faculty members who lost their lives at this time and are buried at the American Cemetery at Normandy. This was a deeply personal moment, and it was so amazing that we got to the chance to honor these twelve men. Laying the flags at their grave stones got me thinking that every single soldier has a unique story that deserves to be honored, even though this is quite the impossible task when a war of this size, or really any war for that matter, takes place.
Moving on to towards the end of our week in Bayeux, I gave my site report at Mont Saint Michel, which is an abbey and monastery built in the tenth century, and which served as a shelter by the Nazi’s during World War II. The view of Mont Saint Michel is absolutely breath taking because it is an island monastery building that seems to pop up out of nowhere. After my presentation we were fortunate enough to have a tour guide lead us through all the different levels and up onto the terrace where you can look out and watch the tides come in (which come in at the amazing speed of five meters per second) and look at views of the sea.
My French experience was one I will definitely remember for a lifetime. The views were absolutely beautiful and the learning experiences are ones in which I will never forget. I have gotten way more out of this trip than I thought was possible, and Bayeux is a major part as to why.