Day somethingish…27!! D-Day excursion
So D-Day is tomorrow. Today was our big excursion where we drove up and down the coast of Normandie hitting all of the major sites. I knew this day would be tough emotionally and this morning while I was reading my bible, I was thinking a lot about what I was getting myself into. I prayed to God to give me strength and to be with me as I went through these cemeteries and museums and bunkers and I’m convinced he was with me today. It was rough.
The first stop was the Pegasus Bridge. It was right off of Sord beach and it was where the first landing of the British solders on D-day. The bridge was crucial to Hitler’s Atlantic wall and if the British could take the bridge, it would give them a huge advantage. Here, the first D-day causality occurred. The actual bridge has been moved and restored as a historical landmark and there’s a picture of it in my album.
The second stop was Omaha Beach. Omaha beach was one of the 5 main D-Day beaches. Here at our home in Franceville we’re on Sord beach. From here to the west, the D-day beaches go Sord (British), Juno (Canadian), Gold (British), Omaha, and Utah (both American). Omaha beach is in a gulf and the land stretches out on each side, so when the soldiers came on to the beach, there were completely surrounded by the Germans. They had to come in at low tide because the Germans had made these structures with mines on top of them that weren’t visible during high tide. But what was difficult about that is that during low tide, the beach is LONG! Like half a mile of sand from the water to the land, and at the end of the sand, there was a six-foot wall of just land. All around Omaha beach there were mountains with canons and machine guns and snipers, so as the men got off the boats and ran up the beach, they rarely made it very far before they were killed. It was early in the morning, first stop, and I definitely started crying while I was standing on this beach. I walked out close to the water and turned around and just took in all of the land that was surrounding me. It was so terrifying. The thought that these soldiers were MY AGE, and they were coming in to a war they couldn’t imagine, about to be pushed off a boat onto this beach surrounded by trained German soldiers who’s only mission was to kill them absolutely broke my heart. Just standing there, I was overwhelmed by the surroundings, and then I realized that people died right where I was standing. The first wave of allies lost 95% of the soldiers and only three waves of allies hit that particular beach because the loss was so great. But by mid day, the waves resumed and by 5 PM the British managed to get 35,000 troops on the beach….but that’s not how many survived. The estimated causalities on Omaha Beach is about 14,000.
When we left the beach, we drove for about five minutes up the mountain to where the Germans were stationed. But now, up that mountain, there’s a memorial cemetery for the Americans that died here in Normandie. In front of the cemetery there’s a visitor center that has a lot of information about different soldiers stories and you can go to this little theater and was a short film about D-day. The film told of 4 different American soldiers who fought in the war, and it read their last letters. One, was of a boy who had gotten married two days before he left, and it read his letter that was dated June 24, 1944. Then at the end, if showed his grave, with his death date: June 24, 1944. I absolutely cried. He died the same day he wrote that letter, which means one of his brothers in the war had searched his body for the letter to make sure it got sent.
After we watched the film we walked out towards the cemetery, but we had to take an odd path out that took us up to the edge of the mountain so that we could see what the view of the beach was like for the Germans. Then, we turned towards the cemetery. It absolutely knocked you backwards when you come over the hill and you can see all of the graves. Nothing but white crosses for TWENTY-SEVEN ACRES. I started waling through, reading all the names and the ages. Children are buried there. KIDS! 16, 17, 18, 19 years old. All of the graves are turned so that the point towards America, and there’s a large chapel in the middle of the cemetery. We walked around and found some graves of men that had won the medal of Honor, and then we also found a set of brothers (See the last paragraph!) I knew prior to this that a lot of Americans died while trying to liberate France from Germany, but seeing all the graves really hit me. Ten thousand six hundred and twenty five bodies are buried there, and then at the end there’s a wall of the men who are MIA, and there’s another 2000 names. We walked through that part and the carving above the name said, “The names of the Men whose location is known only to God.”
By the time we left the cemetery it was only 11:30 and I was already physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I’m tired now just from writing this…So I’m going to take a break for a while…
Our next stop was close to Utah beach, but a bit more inland where the American Paratroopers dropped. So, in honor of that, there was a huge parachute drop. Nine planes dropped 20 men 4 times in to a large field. I have a bunch of pictures of it. It was pretty cool to watch because they basically just fell out of the plane one right after another. Some chutes got tangled about 6 of them ended up using their emergency chutes.
Our next stop was a German cemetery. This was a very interesting stop that kind of overwhelmed me. I actually left the cemetery very angry… mainly because the cemetery was deserted! I mean, it was well taken care of, and it was very pretty, but no one was there, and it was the day before D-day. I guess it just struck me as such a let down. Its been 66 years since the war and I guess I was just confused and irritated that people have all this respect and love for the Americans that fought for France, but they STILL have a grudge against the Germans. I just feel like after this many years, people should be able to look at that war and understand that the Germans we fighting for their country just like the Americans and the French and these men still died in a war that was stupid and pointless. They’re buried here in France, instead of their home, and they receive no respect. I get it, people are still angry, but I don’t understand why people can’t see that most of the Germans we’re given the choice to fight. And a lot of them didn’t agree with what they were doing! A few days prior to this trip, we went the biggest WWII museum in the world and it actually is located pretty close to us. And in the museum, there was a letter that a German Soldier had written to his wife talking about the holocaust. He said that it was very hard for him to kill these women and children because he has his own children at home and he couldn’t imagine how he would feel about it from the other end. He went on to talk about how he was becoming numb to the killing and he hated what he was being forced to do. He didn’t WANT to fight for Germany! He didn’t agree with what was happening, but he didn’t have a choice. These men were killed fighting for what Hitler believed, not what THEY believed, and now they are buried in vain and that pisses me off. I kind of spoke with Pia a bit about it because Her and Elvira are German, and their grandfathers fought in WWII…and I’ll write more about that later…but in this cemetery, there were over 22,000 graves of BOYS only 16 or 17, most of them buried two or three to a grave, and only about 30 people there on the anniversary of their deaths.
After the Cemetery, we headed for a point of land that stretched out between Utah and Omaha beach that was a German post equipped with heave artillery and it could shot at ships coming towards both beaches. Obviously, it was a major target for the British to destroy prior to D-day, so they attempted to bomb it, but they missed every time. “Rudder’s” men were sent to attack it straight on form the water, but the problem was that it was literally cliff and they could only get up there by climbing, but as they climbed, the Germans shot at them. They were supposed to receive reinforcements, but they never came. In the end, only 90 out of the original 350 men survived. We were about to walk out to the point and as soon as it came into view, you could see craters EVERYWHERE! HUGE holes in the ground where the attempted bombings landed and if you navigate through them slowly enough, you can find the bunkers where the Germans were stationed. I kind of broke off from the group and walked on my own, and I ran into a couple from Minnesota. The husband wanted to go Explore the bunkers but since their underground and dark his wife didn’t want him to go alone, so the two of us went together. We crawled down in to the holes and I took pictures with my camera so that we could use the flash to see where we were going. We weren’t down there long because it was literally pitch black, but it was an odd feeling, standing in a hole where the German soldiers slept. After I left there, I walked out to the edge of the cliff and looked over and it is, just as I said, straight down, with nothing but bright blue ocean at the bottom. Later that night, when I was editing my pictures from that day, I stopped to really look at the pictures from inside the bunker, and I realized that in one of the rooms I was standing in, there were chains on the walls where prisoners were held, and you can still see the blood stains that run down from the chains.
The last stop of that VERY LONG DAY, was a ceremony right here in Franceville. The town I’m living in was an important spot to the Germans and it had to be taken over and neutralized so that it would be able to send artillery to Sord beach on D-day. The problem with taking the land though, was that the Germans had rerouted a river and completely flooded the area. On the day of the attempted taking, 700 parachutes were dropped to stage the area, but because of the weather and visibility, they all landed in the water or marshy areas and drowned because their armor was to heavy for them to swim. Only 150 survived out of the 700 and they still managed to fight and take the battery with courage and determination. At this ceremony every year, the men of that 150 who are still alive come back every year and march through the area, where they hand a basket of flowers to honor the men who fought and died. This year, 66 years later, there were about 10 of them here, but there was a twist. Apparently, one of the German soldiers who was stationed there, but surrendered, met and became friends with one of the British soldiers who fought, and this year, the two men carried the basket together, after they hugged. THIS is what I was looking for. I cried, because all of the angry I had from the cemetery was released when I saw that ONE act of peace.
After the ceremony, we explored the area a bit, we even got to go inside our of the planes that dropped the Paratroopers ! (Restored obviously) and it was really cool inside.
It’s amazing how the French have really preserved all the pieces of this war. At the point, all of the craters were still there, in Franceville, all of the original sandbags still lined the streets. In Rouen, the buildings were rebuilt using the original bricks from before. You can walk down the street and find bullet holes in bricks and in rocks, you can find where sides of buildings are crumbling, and where stained glass was melted and bent. In the states, you can study the war all you want, but nothing makes you realize how bad things really were- how bad things really felt- like being here, surrounded by it.
By the time we got back to the house, it was 7, time for dinner, and my head was absolutely killing me. But, after dinner we had plans to watch Saving Private Ryan. In the American cemetery there are 41 sets of brothers that were killed fighting in the war together, but when Steven spell burg visited the cemetery, he was struck by one specific story, and that story is portrayed in Saving Private Ryan. 4 brothers were fighting in the war together, but on D-day, two of them were killed, and one went MIA. Thus, began the quest to find the last remaining brother to send him home, but when he was found, he refused to go and desert “the only brothers [he] had left”. Saving Private Ryan is apparently the closest portrayal of what it was really like on D-day and during the War. I had never seen the movie, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as it started and the scenes of D-day began, and I started realizing that that beach is the beach I LIVE ON, I was physically sick and had to leave the room for a bit. I eventually went back and finished the movie, but it was so hard to get through, because everything around me, and everything in the movie made it REAL, and it forced me to understand that this happened only a few decades ago, and the people that fought were MY AGE! It was just really hard..the whole day was. It took me close to 2 hours to fall asleep that night, and when I finally did, I had nightmares.
Day 29- MONT FREAKING ST. MICHEL!
Ok so I have literally been counting the days until Mont. St. Michel. And today was finally the day! The story behind Mont. St. Michel goes that when Satan fell from heaven, he landed on the mountain. Its actually a rather interesting tale as far as how it was constructed and why, but I can’t tell it with the eloquence that Steve does, So you’ll have to watch the Video on my Facebook,
But basically, I watched a documentary on Mont. St. Michel when I was in middle school and that’s exactly what drew me into wanted to learn more about the culture of France, and to learn the language. Now, when I think of France, I picture Mont. St. Michel, NOT the Eiffel tower. So for me, this entire summer, the thing I was most excited about was most definitely going to Mont. St. Michel.
When we were driving there, it was absolutely HARD for me. I spent most of the ride writing my D-day entry journal actually because I’ve been pretty far behind on writing. So 2 hours into the ride, We came over a big mountain and there, right in front of me, about 48 kilometers away, was Mont. St. Michel and I’m pretty sure I was so excited I about exploded. So, for the next thirty minutes I got to sit and watch as it came closer and closer and grew bigger and bigger.
Once we finally got there, it was absolutely overwhelming. SO HUGE! I was basically bouncing in my seat. Ha ha. So we walked in and stopped for the restroom (which was 40 cents to use!) and then we decided to go straight to the top and work our way down. Whoa. It was such a climb up. Old stone stairs that are uneven and stuff. But once we made it to the top we went in the abbey and worked our way back down. It was absolutely beautiful inside. I actually took about 400 pictures JUST of the castle.
When we first went inside, I made it a point to hang back from the group because I wanted to experience it in my own time and in my own way. So I walked around my myself, paying careful attention to details and stuff. At one point, I walked through a room and I turned to my right and noticed a set of stairs that went pretty far up. I couldn’t actually see anything at the top because it was pitch black…but obviously I was curious..and I noticed that the gate blocking off was only about 4 feet high…so I stood there for a few minutes waiting for everyone to leave and a guy walks up to me and says, “You’re about to explore aren’t you?”
I was a little confused because he was speaking English so I didn’t actually say anything and he said, “I’m will, from Minnesota and I want to explore. Do you speak English?” I just laughed and said yeah, and off we went up the stairs. They took us about 3 stories up to a room that was circular with a lot of windows. We were pretty high up in the abbey and we could see for MILES! It was beautiful! BUT, that’s the only place we could get to from the stairs because everything was locked…so we went back down. While we explored I learned that this kid was 17 years old, about to go into his senior year, and he was on vacation with his parents.
We kept walking though the main rooms and we found another passage way. This time, it went down and it wasn’t really stairs…I think it may have been stairs at one point, but now it was more of a slope, and it was gated. The gate was about 6 and a half feet (WAY taller than me) and it was old iron and pointed…but at the top there was about 3 feet between the gate and the ceiling, so…of course, we had to try right? So..he went first and he put his feet against one wall and his back against the other and inched up until he could get a foot over the top of the gate, then he jumped down. I did the same, but when I got my foot over the top, the pointed part caught my jeans and when I pulled to jump down, it ripped the back of my jeans open and cut my leg. At first I was like, CRAP! But then…I thought about how cool it was that I just ripped my jeans exploring a 1000-year-old castle, so I didn’t really care anymore.
We went down the passage and it actually led to nowhere. At the end of it, it lead out to a room, but we were on a ledge about 5 feet from the floor..so we jumped down (assuming we would be able to get back up) but once we were down, it was obvious we weren’t going back out that way. We were in a huge dungeon type room pretty deep in the castle apparently, and we started walking through the hallways be we ended up getting extremely lost! So we walked around for about 30 minutes, going up at every chance we got, and eventually, some man came along and started screaming at us in French. He led us to an exit and we came out a few rooms back from where we started.
After that I said by to my new friend (who later added me on facebook) and went back down the mountain and through some of the shops where I bought two post cards and a little Eiffel tower thingy. I TOLD myself I wouldn’t by ANYTHING with the Eiffel tower on it, but I ended up falling in love with this little keychain and the guy gave me half price on it. It has 3 towers hanging from it, one red, one blue, and one white. (The colors of the flag) and when I paid for it, the guy gave me a patch that has the flag on it! So it was pretty happy about that. =)
When we left all the girls were begging for McDonalds, so Steve gave in and decided that we were all going to go. I was riding in the car with Jessica, Jena, and Elvira and I was irritated because Steve said that if we wanted McDonalds we had to stay in French for the rest of the ride home, but I was dying to talk about my adventures. So Elvira, as a compromise, let us listen to English music on my laptop, which was pretty cool. We all got to bond quite a bit through that, talking about our favorite bands and stuff. Elvira and I have kind of the same taste in music…so that was cool. =)