Remembrance: Beaches of Normandy

Reminders of D-Day make Juno Beach in Normandy a hallowed place.

Reminders of D-Day make Juno Beach in Normandy a hallowed place.

Rangers scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc as D-Day got underway.

Rangers scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc as D-Day got underway.

We stood on a hill, looking out over the wide golden beaches, clouds scudding over the grey-green waves, a breeze whipping past.

Craters filled with grass and wildflowers, broken concrete bunkers and twisted iron bars were all that remained to remind us of the history that was made here beginning on June 6, 1944. D-Day.

We could see England from where we stood but we could see all the beaches that once were crowded with American, British and Canadian soldiers fighting their way past the Germany Army. It extended too far, farther than the distance from our place on Omaha Beach to the shores of England across the English Channel.

More than 9,000 Americans are buried at Saint-Laurent cemetery near Omaha Beach.

More than 9,000 Americans are buried at Saint-Laurent cemetery near Omaha Beach.

On a very long day trip from Paris, we visited two of the beaches of Normandy, Omaha and Juno. We stopped in the museum of Caen. And paused to remember the lost and the missing at the American Cemetery.

The images were familiar from movies and archive photos. Of course, we’ve all seen some recreation of these historic battles. Yet it wasn’t until I stood there by that abandoned bunker where Germany soldiers once aimed at Allied forces and drove through towns rebuilt after they had been leveled during the 100-day Battle of Normandy that I understood even a little the scale of the D-Day invasion.

A long wall behind the cemetery recalls those missing after D-Day.

A long wall behind the cemetery recalls those missing after D-Day.

I always thought of D-Day as a day. But it lasted 100 days, ending with Allies marching into Paris in August 1944. Where I saw a buff-colored calf nuzzling its mother, an ancient steeple stretching to the sky and field after field of corn and hay now, there was once nothing but rubble.

On the path to Pointe du Hoc, Rangers who died in the attack are remembered.

On the path to Pointe du Hoc, Rangers who died in the attack are remembered.

The Caen Normandy Memorial Museum presents the battle beautifully — outlining the military strategy, position of soldiers  and ships — while depicting its toll on the people of Normandy. Places like St. Lo and Lisieux were reduced to nothing, its people wounded or left homeless. A newly-opened bunker under the museum was once used by Nazi Gen. Richter. It’s mostly empty with some signs, old German uniforms and other things the enemy forces left behind. The museum was a great way to introduce us to the scenes we would see the rest of the day: Pointe du Hoc, a promontory scaled by American Rangers as D-Day began, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and Juno Beach, where Canadian forces came ashore.

A memorial on Omaha Beach pays tribute to the soldiers who came ashore here.

A memorial on Omaha Beach pays tribute to the soldiers who came ashore here.

Each stop offered a moment to reflect. I learned a lot standing on a hill, looking over a wide sandy beach, across the English Channel, across 71 years of remembrance.

ⓒ Text and photos by Mary K. Tilghman

A marker in the American cemetery who is still unknown.

A marker in the American cemetery for a soldier whose identity is still unknown.

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2 responses to “Remembrance: Beaches of Normandy

  1. As we remember our American dead, let us not forget that for every American killed, our ally China lost 40, ally Russia lost 50. Of the Chinese and Russian deaths, over half were civilians, mostly killed in aerial bombing raids. Of the 405,399 American deaths, exactly 6 were civilians. (Elsie Mitchell of Seattle and her five children, who stumbled on a Japanese booby-trapped weather balloon while on a picnic.)

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