One of the great things about studying at la Université Catholique de l’Ouest is that the university plans cultural excursions that you can sign up for throughout the semester. This past weekend, I went on an excursion to Normandy.
Throughout my childhood, I was constantly exposed to WWII through the books my dad kept around the house and the movies he watched. Additionally, I knew my grandfather has served in the pacific theatre during the war. Therefore, when I heard there was an excursion to Normandy, I jumped at the chance to go.
Our excursion began at a WWII museum in Normandy which had many neat artifacts and videos from the war and the time surrounding it. Then, we visited the American Cemetery. You may recognize the cemetery from the opening and closing scenes of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” With meticulously kept green grass and tall trees, it overlooks Omaha Beach where many of the soldiers, themselves, died. Row after row of headstones shaped in either a cross or the Star of David mark the graves of the 9,387 soldiers that are buried there. It is somber to walk through the headstones, read the names, and know that many of the men who died there were even younger than myself. Unknown graves read “here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms known only to God” to honor the sacrifice of those who we could not identify, but know did not make it home. One of my favorite parts of the visit was an exhibit inside the visitors center, in which you can hear real personal short stories recounted by WWII soldiers. I highly recommend sitting for a few minutes to listen during your visit.
Next we visited Omaha Beach, which was not exactly what I expected. Though there is a simple but beautiful monument, if you look around, it is just a normal beach. It does not at all betray the horrors that occurred there 73 years ago.
Lastly, we visited Point du Hoc, which is a seaside cliff that overlooks the English Channel. On D-Day, the 2nd and 5th Army Ranger battalions were given the task of scaling the cliffs to destroy german artillery. Without destroying this artillery, it would have made the beach landings from Utah to Omaha near impossible, or at the very least, caused significantly higher casualties.
It was a great honor to see Normandy where so many men gave their lives for the liberation of the free world. I believe George W. Bush summarized it best when he said, “that road to V-E Day was hard and long and traveled by weary and valiant men, and history will always record where that road began. It began here, with the first footprints on the beaches of Normandy.”