Battlefields and cemeteries marked our time in Bayeux. In just a few days in Bayeux I must have seen over 10,000 gravestones. The British, German, and American cemeteries are located on the coast, or quite close to it.
Visiting Pointe du Hoc and then a few moments later walking through the American Cemetery at Normandy built this new understanding for me. In a book, movie or class moving from the battle to the cost simply would have been a turn of the page or the flick of a switch. Diagrams, text or actors represent these people in ways that are important, yet lack depth of feeling. Experiencing these places brings something that cannot be taught but must be seen. Planting a flag at my fellow Buckeye’s final resting place brought it home for me, as this man was not much different than myself.
Roger Dyar was born and raised in the Conshocton area. Dyar went to The Ohio State University for two years and then he enlisted as an aviation cadet. Dyar broke the air speed record in a P-47 Thunderbolt by going 725 miles per hour. One man whom I could relate to suddenly became the thousands of other men who rest at the American Cemetery at Normandy.
The battlefield is France, fighting occurred all over the area in which we stayed and toured. Pieces of artificial harbors, gun emplacements, bunkers and craters litter these areas.
The artificial harbor at Gold beach stretches for miles.
German artillery emplacement, Pointe du Hoc.
Ruins of a German bunker and craters, Pointe du Hoc.
Civilians in France were killed by both Allied bombers and the Nazi occupiers. Over 20,000 civilians were killed during the invasion of Normandy. For these people, this was their home. America had not suffered invasion and occupation like the French had. We are distant from this reality; we are separated almost completely from it. Tales from our grandpas and stories about the “good war” are engrained in the American identity. Besides Arlington, America doesn’t have much physical connection to World War Two. In a way that is a blessing, in other ways this distance harms our perspective. In America as the decades have passed, events that occurred thousands of miles away have begun to fade away. In France it just takes a half hour of driving before you arrive at a battlefield. The war was in your village, backyard or even in your own home.