This week in Bayeux has been a heavy dose of history and carbs. We began the week with the Caen World War II Museum, followed by a trip to Pegasus Bridge, where Charlie O’Brien delivered an informative site report on why capturing the bridge was important for the Allies. We visited Utah Beach and the Nazi bunker on it, then had the opportunity to contrast it with the steep cliffs of Omaha Beach and the artificial ports at Gold Beach. We explored Pointe du Hoc, which was a vital German strongpoint between Omaha and Utah Beach. We visited the German, American, and British cemeteries, the Arromanche 360 degree theater, the small town of St. Mere-Eglise, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Mont St. Michel.
As I did in my first blog, I’d like to focus on a few sites that left the biggest impressions on me. Beginning at Pointe du Hoc, we walked through many Nazi bunkers and got a better understanding of what the fighting looked like from their perspective. Walking along the edge of the massive and steep cliffs illustrated how daunting the task of the 2nd Rangers was to scale the cliffs and destroy crucial German guns.
The second area I want to focus on is the cemeteries we visited. The German, American, and British cemeteries all provided a somber reminder of just how young many of the troops on all sides were. Many of the soldiers who died at Normandy were born after my grandfather, who recently celebrated his 97th birthday.
We first visited the German cemetery, which was orderly and serious. The cemetery was very uniform, with plaques in rows listing the rank, name, and dates of birth and death of each fallen German. Between the rows, clusters of five crosses were interspersed. Unlike in the American and British cemeteries, the landscaping was plain. The cemetery was surrounded by trees, but there was no color other than the green grass and gray plaques and crosses. OK. Here’s proper description.
The American cemetery had many similarities, but was significantly larger. Like the German cemetery, it was very uniform, with each tombstone containing the same information. The American cemetery overlooked Omaha Beach, where many of the Americans in the cemetery lost their lives in their fight to liberate France. This allows the cemetery to memorialize not only the men that died there, but also their cause.
However, neither of these cemeteries provoked more thought on this account than the British cemetery. Unlike the uniformity of the first two cemeteries, the British cemetery added a personal touch by allowing family members of the fallen British troops to add a short quote to the tombstone. From poetic verses like “A wonderful nature so loving and kind, a beautiful memory left behind” to lines as simple as “Until we meet again,” each grave reminded that for every serviceman that was killed, a number of people lost a loved one too soon. A tombstone that particularly stuck out to me was that of a 28-year old Private, which bluntly read, “Some day we will understand.” These cemeteries, along with Brandon Fawbush’s compelling site report on the annihilation of the American 29th division at Omaha Beach, served as a chilling reminder that there is nothing glamorous about war. To think of war as a game undermines the massive and devastating human cost that comes with it.
We are now settled in comfortably in Krakow, Poland, where I will be posting from soon!
Au revoir France,
Also, here are some pictures from Paris: