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Sunday, June 06, 2004

Days Of Infamy: The D-Day Invasion

Today is the 60th anniversary of one of the most important days in world history. June 6, 1994 is truly a day that changed the course of the world. Instead of coming up with something to describe this day, I'll use my past words. Last year I was in France for our European Law program. Part of the six weeks in France included a trip to the beaches of Normandy and the towns surrounding it. Below are exerpts from my travelogue emails that I sent back to my family and friends.

PS: I am so glad grandpa never left England. He was a mechanic on jeeps and trucks. The only German he ever meet was the one who parachuted in front of him and his buddies while coming back from a British pub one night. German pilot doesn't know any English; Americans don't know any German. The comical tale of everyone trying to run away from the German is one for the ages.

Friday June 27, 2003

Roberto got the BGB [Big Green Bus] to the Normandy beaches. Before going to Normandy it should be required viewing of the first 30 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" and all of "The Longest Day" to get a feel for what occured here. We walked around the ruins of the Nazi bunkers, stumbling up and down holes created by Allied naval shells on June 6, 1944. The small children with us just ran up and down the big holes and into the bunkers. I tried to explain what things were when they asked questions, but they just had fun and came up with "D-Day Golf" to make use of all the horrible divets caused by 14" inch shells. They were just too young to understand the meaning of it all and that was depressing.

A few miles away is the American Cemetary. The United States runs this place so the dominant language is English. Any French is below the English words for a change. The path goes up to a huge memorial that has a tiled map of the D-Day battle and the following 100-day Normandy operation. A huge marble semi-circular arch connects the two sides of the memorial emblazed with the words:


Behind us were the 9,286 white marble graves. The gray overcast, the
blasting cold wind, and the foaming sea along one side all fit the
somberness of the place. Any conversations were in hushed tones, most were simply silent as they walked around the Roman Crosses or occassional Star of David. Some only had the name UNKNOWN on them. Though completely different in design, it felt just like the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

A large semicircular wall contains over 1,100 names. The names of those missing in action from the European theater of World War II.

At 4:30 pm is a ceremony. Patriotic songs are played through the
speakers as a team of people approaches both flag poles. The Star Spangled Banner is finally played and you can tell who the Americans are, they stopped and listened as the rest ambled on with their business. Though none at the poles were in uniform, you can tell that the people were either in the armed services or had been at some point in time. They lowered the American flags and struggled with the brisk wind to fold them into those perfect military triangles, but after a few minutes they succeeded. Each man, they were all men, saluted their flag and then handed it to a memorial official. If you're ever out here, be here at 4:30 pm.

Roberto got the BGB to a nearby small village where we wondered around
Omaha Beach. This stretch has no remains of the invasion. It looks like
any small French village near the English Channel. Our mascot Scooter
attacked the beach like an American G.I., he ran as fast as he could and dug up the sand whenever possible. It was a quiet bus ride into Caen to check into our new hotel.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

The morning had our one structured stop. After that the afternoon was
free to do whatever we wanted. We were tired of all the structured parts of our field trips. Hurry up and wait was the biggest part of our trips. You can't enjoy a cathedral in 15 minutes when it takes 5 minutes just to empty the bus, and 15 minutes just to round up the people. Le Memorial is a muesum in Caen that shows the period of time between the world wars, France during the occupation, the rest of WW2, and has sections on the Cold War, and a section devoted to world peace and all of the Nobel Peace Prize winners with memorial gardens. I don't know what our French overseer was thinking, but there was NO WAY were could see all of the meusem in only 2 hours especially since we had to see a film.

The film "100 Day in Normandy" is amazing. It's not in any language,
except for actual words spoken by historical figures like Churchill, Hitler, Eisenhower, etc. The screen gets split into two halves using mostly archival footage. The left shows the Allies getting ready to invade Normanday by training troops, boarding ships, etc. The right side shows the German polishing the embedded cannons, loading up ammunition, and whistling while they wait. Then the Allies showed up and guns fired and planes fell from the sky. Sometimes scenes from "The Longest Day" were used but mostly it was real footage. No Scott, our coolest Nazi German in ciema history wasn't shown, though the scene were the Allied fleet appeared on the horizon did. Sometimes computer generated planes flew over a map and showed the Allied advance and German resistance. They had before and after photos of towns in the area. Before the invasion was a picturesque city, show some fire blossoms then the after was the bombed out shell of what we saw a few seconds earlier.

Next to me was a French woman who appeared in her 80s. She couldn't
help but cry at those scenes. She was probably a teenager when her town was blown up. The dual screens continued to show their images and eventually they show the Allies win on the left, and Germany losing the war on the right. Then a third screen came from the middle and expanded out until it feel the entire screen. It was an aerial approach and circle around the American Cemetary that we had visited the day before.

Those giggling children we had the day before, may have finally
understood at least part of what happened here. They seemed to be quiet at the end.

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