I know Monday was Memorial Day and I’m probably a few days late with this article, but c’est la vie as the say in France. Besides, the 69th anniversary of D-Day is coming up in about one week.
Over the past two weeks, I had the pleasure of traveling to Normandy, France and visiting some of the most infamous beaches in the world. I’m talking about the D-Day landing sites. During that time, we also saw some German armaments from Normandy and the landing areas for the 82nd and 101st Airborne on the night of June 5 just prior to the beach landings. All in all, it was a very emotional experience. And, I learned a lot about the beaches and the men that made that heroic landing that changed the course of the war and the history of the world.
We began our trip in Saint Mere-Eglise near Utah Beach. This is the town where the 82nd and 101st Airborne parachuted prior to the landing in Utah. It was one of the first cities liberated on June 6. However, because of a house that happened to be on fire the night of the landings in the town, it resulted in many casualties and many deaths of the paratroopers as the fire provided light that enabled the German military to fire out the paratroopers.
One of the most famous of those paratroopers, Private John Steele, was immortalized by Red Buttons in the movie “The Longest Day.” As many of you know, he was the paratrooper whose chute got caught in a church steeple. I was not aware of this until I saw the Church. By all accounts of the event, Private Steele should have died on June 6th. However, he played dead while hanging on the church and luckily survived the war as a result. His D-Day adventure is immortalized to this day as there is a dummy of Private Steele hanging on the Church.
Private Steele was one of the lucky ones. Overall, the estimate is that the United States suffered 2,499 casualties on D-Day. Most of those were on Omaha Beach which is where the US First Infantry Division among others landed. By most accounts, nothing went well on June 6th at Omaha Beach. The American landing troops were met with heavy German defense both from Artillery and Infantry. In fact, many of those men, have never left Normandy. It is the final resting place of more than 9,000 US Troops.
Going to the American Cemetery in Normandy where many of those and others are buried was unfortunately, the highlight of the day and the most emotional experience of the day. You cannot go to this cemetery and not shed a tear for the fallen. When you think about all of these men who gave up their lives in the name of freedom, you cannot do anything but cry. It is a truly awe inspiring site.
The remainder of the days in Normandy, France were spent on Utah Beach, as well as Juno, Sword and Gold beaches. Utah and Omaha are well memorialized and are treated as sacred ground. However, Juno, Sword and Gold seem to have been developed as resort communities and other than a few small memorials, it
appears they have been forgotten. This is not right and really bothered me. All of these beaches should be sacrosanct. But, as time goes on, even Omaha and Utah will probably be forgotten. I hope not. Because those that have made the ultimate sacrifice should never be forgotten. And, the men who died on that day, went way beyond the normal call of duty!
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#normandy, #dday, #utahbeach