I understand that kids my age don’t understand the sacrifice that many men made on June 6, 1944. However, I was very fortunate to go to France and visit Normandy. Before I went, I had pictured the place to be filled with huge craters and massive hedgerows. While there still were hedgerows and craters, I also saw a beautiful country filled with many small businesses and nice people always willing to have a conversation. While I was there, my family visited the towns of Caen and Bayeux, as well as other small villages. The town of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, east of Utah Beach, includes a church called Sainte-Mère-Église. This church was one of the main objectives when the 101st Airborne Division landed in Normandy. Rumors have been told that a soldier landed on top of the church and got stuck up on its steeple. Germans found him and took him as a prisoner of war. This church is also mentioned in episode two of the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” In the city of Caen, there are many museums and memorials including the famous Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where over 9,300 Americans are buried. This cemetery also appears in the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” To get the full experience, we hired a tour guide to take us to the major historical locations and the beaches. We learned a ton of information that you can’t look up on the internet. I never knew that more men died going through hedgerows and securing villages than on the beaches themselves.
Our tour guide also took us to an interesting bunker system at La Pointe du Hoc. In World War II, La Point du Hoc was a giant cliff that had German 155mm naval guns to that fire at Allies and Americans landing at both Utah and Omaha Beaches, which was a distance of about 20,000 feet. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel built these guns as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defense. On the day of Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of Normandy, the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions were sent to go silence these weapons. Since the guns were built on a 100-foot-high cliff, Rangers were trained to use ropes and climb this cliff, which sounds nearly impossible to me. In Gen. Omar Bradley’s memoir, “A Soldier’s Story,” he said, “No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the 34-year-old commander of this Provisional Ranger Force.” The man that Gen. Bradley mentioned was the commander of these battalions: Lt. Col. James E. Rudder. After the Rangers made it to the top, they eventually secured the position and saved many lives. The last remaining functional bunker after D-Day is directly north of Bayeux, called Longues-sur-Mer battery. There are actually four naval gun bunkers, but only one is still intact.
The place we stayed at was a small bed-and-breakfast near the town of Villers-Bocage, and is south of Bayeux: La Ferme du Pressoir Gite, which means “The Pressoir Farm Cottage” in English. The owner lives onsite and raises goats, chickens, and horses. The breakfast was amazing, filled with all types of baked foods. The owner also gave us books about the Villers-Bocage’s history where I learned that a massive tank battle had occurred there. A German Tiger tank was destroying a lot of American Sherman tanks. Eventually, the Allies had to bomb the whole town just to kill the single Tiger.
One of the best experiences I had was at Omaha Beach. Before I visited Normandy, I had seen many movies about D-Day and the experiences many soldiers had. Most of them were only four or five years older than me. While I was just standing on the sandy beaches, I had thought about all the sacrifices those men had to make for me to be there. It makes me very sad to think that many people do not appreciate those who gave it all for their country. The freedom that many men and women died for. Many people just take it for granted. One memorial that stuck out to me was a memorial at the Normandy American Cemetery. There was a young man coming out of water and all the rocks in the cement came from Omaha Beach. This memorial stood for the youthful Allied soldiers who never returned home. If I could, I would go back to Normandy because it would take months to see everything.