Saturday, July 28, 2012

More Monuments: France, Part 4

I'm back online with my photos and will continue to document our various adventures till everything is written down.

Tuesday, July 17 found us still in Normandy and trying to decide between a hurried trip to Paris or a more languid day spent exploring the other sites related to D-day. The slower pace of Normandy won out, in spite of the serious subject matter and the obvious draw of the most famous city in Europe.

And so we went to Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach. The former is the site of a German gun emplacement that had to be taken out by a small band of Rangers who scaled sheer cliffs and then were left on their own for two days to defend their position. The latter is the other location of the Allied endeavor to make a stand and finish the war in Europe.

Our day was gray and misty, which to me was a fitting way to experience these places. Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery were all brightness and hope and shining patriotism. We visited them under perfect blue skies that lifted my heart. Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach, in contrast, were raw and scarred and primal in their reminder of the ugliness of these battles. I thought of all the stories that boil a lot of the grandeur and bigness of Operation Overlord down to just trying to get out alive and maybe take a couple of your buddies with you. The courage is the same, and I think, the larger motivation, but in the end, it was brutality and blood and danger and the cold ocean and hot, burning war. That was the price paid by both sides. These sites hammered that fact home to my heart and mind with no doubts. I liked the fact that Pointe du Hoc has been left as it remained in those days, with massive bomb craters and gun turrets blasted to bits. Bunkers with bullet holes in the walls bear testimony to the horror of standing watch over the sea in a tiny concrete room and not knowing what the next moments might bring.

In my sentimentality, I was touched by the skin of grass and flowers, now grown over the Pointe, that have slightly softened this place but have left the scars of battle fully visible. Again was made manifest the cycle of moving forward yet letting the past whisper its stories. It was an eerie yet beautiful place.

By the time we got to Utah Beach, it was just cold and blustery, but we ventured out anyway. This hallowed ground has a collection of memorials and plaques from various organizations and towns, most being simple expressions of gratitude for bravery and practicality that got the job done. It seemed to me to be a people's monument rather than a government's; personal and immediate, with none of the manicured polish of the American Cemetery. I liked that a lot.

We ended the day with a perfect Country French meal in Ste. Marie du Mont, which has given itself over to be a memorial to the days of liberation. There are placards all over town that provide a walking tour of the gritty and horrific history of this first city to be captured by the Allies and the months of equipment transport that followed.

Here are the photos:

A bomb crater at Pointe du Hoc, grown over by grass
and criss-crossed by the paths worn by visitors
As I've said so many times, there were
flowers everywhere. 
Tiny, brilliantly orange blossoms were like lights in the grass. 
The children were so curious about this place and could
experience it with all their senses. 
A view of the softening grasses and the sharp cliffs that now
guard the Pointe. 
Natural bouquets everywhere. 
A 6-year old for scale. This was serious destruction. 
This gun mount was large enough for a child to stand on. I
hated to consider the gun that was large enough for it. 
Life and color contrasted against gray rubble. 

A closer view of the cliffs 
My SIL considers the scene.  
A fortification in ruins, now a playground. 


For the soldiers. All of them. 
One of the monuments at Utah Beach

Utah beach as seen through the grass. 



Cathedral at Ste. Marie du Mont. It was a pivotal location
in the battle between the Germans and the Allies. 

The city hall itself is a memorial. 

The whole town is a memorial, really. They
live and breathe June 6. 

Perhaps my favorite door in all of Europe. 

Notice the name of the Bar.

The sun broke through just as it was getting
ready to set. Gorgeous. 

3 comments:

  1. The words on that memorial made me teary. I am so happy that you were able to experience that place in real life. I would love to do that myself someday. Powerful, powerful history.

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  2. All so breathtaking! You do a great job of making me want to go visit. :)

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Thank you for sharing your insights!