18 May 2013

European Vacation Five - Beaches

Omaha Beach

It’s simply too much to process. The enormity of what went on there and a lifetime of reading about it thinking about and watching it dramatized. Today I stood on Omaha Beach the bloodiest sector of the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. It’s a pretty beach that suggests nothing of the blood that soaked it 69 years ago. Young men were slaughtered while others bravely charged on some to glory some to their deaths. They faced German guns. The cacophony was hard to fathom on such a peaceful day.

It is an awful thing war. But there it is running roughshod through the history of humankind. So there’s no denying it. It is the worst of human folly and its lessons go continually unlearned.

I do not like tours. I like to see and discover for myself. But seeing all I did today without a tour would have been impossible. So there I was stuck listening to the endless chatter of our well meaning tour guide she of an encyclopedic knowledge that even surpassed my own.

The day started about five hours after the previous one ended. An early morning scramble to the train station and then a two hour trip to Caen. From there I was picked up with others from my tour and taken to the Memorial museum. As museum’s go it was pretty good though. Any museum that has Adolph Hitler’s suitcase is worth seeing. Of course there was much more than that including displays photos maps and the ever present over priced gift shop.

We were there too long especially with a mediocre lunch included. Finally we were in a van and going from site to site. Honestly this was one of the best parts of the trip riding around and seeing the gorgeous Normandy countryside which featured Roman walls ancient houses and castles and cows and sheep aplenty. Occasionally a human could be seen. It was difficult to imagine that this was once a battleground. I’d heard a lot about the famous hedgerows that were so vexing to allied troops. Seeing them it was clearer why. They were tall thick and deep. Impossible to see through or over and hard to cut.

We saw German bunkers one of which was atop a cliff that U.S. Rangers somehow scaled -- at great loss of life. There were bullet holes still in walls and a ceiling that showed evidence of a flamethrower attacks that roasted some German soldiers. Grisly but historical.

Omaha Beach was the highlight but the American cemetery was touching as well. To see the vast row of crosses and walk about reading some of the names is a powerful experience. 

It was a good day for me. Hard to conceptualize. Hard to find a place for in my consciousness. So much beauty and so many reminders of such a horrible and such a valorous event.

I listened to The Beatles and Amy Winehouse on the train ride back. The wife met me at the train station and I fell into her arms as if I was returning from battle itself rather than a historical battlefield. I can be so overly dramatic.

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