Excursion Five: le Mémorial de Caen et les Plages de débarquement, July 21, 2012

I’ll admit that this was the one excursion that I felt ambivalent about. I have never been an advocate for any type of war or violence. The thought of it generally makes me nauseous. And while I do fully support those who continue to fight and make such huge sacrifices for our country, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the necessity of war. I am also turned off by the carelessly tossed around phrase of ” ‘merica!”, which became the statement of the day for this particular excursion. To me, it seems to only enforce an ignorance about the severity of war. Of course, it’s great to have pride for your country, but the United States has an all but clean record when it comes to dealing with other countries in battle. I think it’s important to remember that and to remain sensitive in reference to these events..

And not to mention that we made these D-Day visits the day after the horrific Aurora shooting…

Anyway! I’m not trying to get political here, just simply explaining my state of mind prior to arriving at our first location of the day: the Caen-Normandy Memorial Museum.

Le Memorial de Caen.
The infamous “Non Violence” sculpture.

Once there, we studied the near thousands of WWII artifacts from propaganda posters, to uniforms, to Nazi pamphlets, to wardrobes destroyed by bombs. It was an impeccable collection that really struck me. I’d been to memorial museums in the past, but something about being in one of the effected towns really brought everything into perspective.

Nazi pamphlets and articles and vintage editions of ‘Mein Kampf’.
Old military items.

After a quick lunch, we made our way to the Normandy American Cemetery. That really sent me for a loop. Seeing the near 10,000 white crosses covering this beautiful landscape by the ocean was unreal. It’s one thing to have a number in your mind, but to physically see it.. that’s crazy stuff.

Endless white crosses at the American Cemetery.

9,387 American burials look over Omaha Beach, while 1,557 dislocated or unidentified names are engraved along the walls of the east garden. It was an incredibly sobering visit that will stay with me for quite some time.

After a brief walk along the shores of Omaha Beach, we were off to Pointe du Hoc to observe the remains of the German bunkers.

Today’s Omaha Beach landscape.

One of the first things we came across was a massive crater, now covered in grass and wildflowers. It took me a few seconds to recognize that it wasn’t just a natural hole in the ground, but the result of a bombing.

The Pointe du Hoc landscape, splattered with crater remnants of bombs.

Wandering through the stone bunkers was eery and a bit bone-chilling. Inside them, no natural light comes in and you’re surrounded by complete darkness. Even considering that it was our enemy who were situated beneath this ground, it was difficult for me not to share a bit of sympathy knowing the likely terrifying conditions.

What remains of the German bunkers at Pointe du Hoc.
More remains…

We weren’t given much time at Pointe du Hoc before we made our final stop at La Cambe German war cemetery. This burial ground was much more somber than the American cemetery because of it’s dark and imperfectly shaped stone crosses.

The lush green of the German cemetery.

During the war, the deaths of German soldiers was so rapid that many soldiers were buried in the nearest of 1,400 “official” battlefield cemeteries. When La Cambe was designated the official WWII German cemetery in 1954, over 12,000 soldiers were exhumed and moved to their new resting place in Normandy. Today, over 21,000 German soldiers, sailors, and airmen are buried in La Cambe. That number continues to rise as more and more casualties are found, although formal burials are much less common.

All in all, the day was eye-opening and gave me a new perspective on the Second World War. My initial skepticism transformed into a great appreciation for the lives lost nearly 70 years ago. What a great excursion.

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