For as long as I can remember, I’ve always known and learned about World War Two. From grade school all the way through my current college courses, we’ve always been taught about how America and the Allied forces fought against the atrocities committed by Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany. I learned about the surrender and German occupation of France as well as the Normandy landings plenty of times and thought that I possessed a clear understanding of these situations. These crucially important moments in history became a simple fact in my brain that occurred in a matter of fact fashion. However, as we traveled throughout France visiting many of these famous historical sites, my perception of these events changed drastically.
The place we visited that had the greatest impact on my perceptions of history was our visit to Omaha Beach. I’ve read plenty of articles regarding the Normandy landings and the many Americans who were slaughtered on Omaha Beach. However, it never really felt real until I was standing on the actual beach. The tide was completely out, and I was able to see how far the soldiers had to run to reach the bluffs. I could see the old hideouts up on the hills where the Germans would have had their weapons ready to defend the high ground. I was able to see how easy it would have been for the Germans to target and kill the American soldiers storming the beach. Seeing this in person was truly surreal and put the Normandy landings into a new perspective to me. I was able to picture the brutality of the battle scene and now understood why so many Americans were killed that day.
However, my new perspective also included a challenge to what I was conventionally taught in school about the Normandy landings. We learned that the men fought and gave their lives on the beaches out of sheer patriotism. However, after seeing the conditions on the beach itself I doubt that this was completely the case. Contrary to what I’ve been taught, I believe that what really drove the men to storm and secure the beaches was the simple need to survive. The conditions during the landings were dangerous and gave the Germans an advantage, and the soldiers knew quite frankly that they would be killed if they did not fight with all of the vigor that they had and as quickly as possible to secure the area. Visiting these areas in Normandy challenged what I’ve been previously taught and to come to a more realistic interpretation of what happened on these beaches during the Normandy invasions.