A Memorable Visit to the D-Day Beaches

I am in Caen today, just a half hour or so from the Normandy beaches where more than a hundred thousand men stormed ashore on June 6, 1944 … the invasion of Europe. 

 For me, the day began with a visit to the Mémorial de Caen and it is a must-see … a series of rooms and areas with photos and captions, copies of documents, placards with text, some video clips, and appropriate artifacts on display along the way. It’s extremely well done — much of it almost riveting — the displays explaining how the world spiraled down into chaos and world war in the years following World War One. In fact, visitors proceed down a circular ramp as they move through the various display areas … spiraling down right along with the history they’re seeing. 

Besides me, there were two couples in our small guided tour group: one from Connecticut, the other from New York. In all, we had about two-and-a-half hours there in the Memorial building. It was fascinating and moving, and it wasn’t nearly enough time.

 After the Memorial, we went to the site of the D-Day invasion. More specifically, our first stop was Pointe du Hoc, which is an area of several acres on top of a cliff several hundred feet high and overlooking a narrow, stoney beach. Very early on D-Day, a few hundred Army Rangers had to scale that cliff and knock out the big guns the Germans had up there … guns with an 11-mile range that could shell our invasion fleet. Our guys went up that cliff using grappling hooks and long flimsy ladders, taking enemy fire the entire time. They finally made it and discovered that the guns weren’t there … the Germans had moved them farther inland days earlier. Standing up on the edge of that cliff, there is only one thought in your head: “My God! They were way up here and we were way down there.” 

There were a few more stops on the tour: bunkers, gun emplacements, machine gun nests — all made of heavily reinforced concrete. Next, down to the beach itself where Craig, the man from Connecticut, pulled a plastic baggie from his pocket to take home a bit of sand from Omaha Beach. “I figured it would be a nice souvenir,” he said half-apologetically. He needn’t have felt that way. I would have given almost anything for my own little baggie at that moment.

Our last stop was the American cemetery: an impressive and moving memorial, overlooking some 9,400 white marble headstones, all set into a meticulously manicured lawn; row after row, stretching almost out of sight. Our little group was quiet on the walk back to our van. Craig, from Connecticut, finally spoke. “Did you notice?” he asked. “The rows of headstones are in absolutely perfect alignment.” Sandrine, our French guide, spoke up. “When I first started doing this guide work,” she said, “I asked one of the visiting generals about that. He told me the rows had to be perfect because it was their last formation.”

It was really quiet after that. We all climbed into the van and no one spoke as we headed back toward Caen. Finally, Craig broke the ice. “I wonder,” he said rather pensively, “who has to do all the weed-wacking back there.” 
Howls of laughter.
Fade to black.