Alright so just to let you guys know, this piece has been a work in progress for the last week or so. The internet kept messing up and making things difficult.
Happy (very) belated Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you guys had a splendid holiday, those of you who celebrate it. To everyone else, I guess we all just had a normal day. I don’t know about anyone else but Thanksgiving was weird for me this year. Why? Because France doesn’t believe in Thanksgiving. I mean, it is an American holiday. But it was weird not having a little break to look forward to where you can relax and see your family and friends and the food. Oh my lord, I think that was the first time that I’ve missed any American food specifically. The pumpkin and pecan pies, the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, the greenbean casserole. Yum. While everyone I know (practically) was celebrating, I had to attend class and study for a test. Not as fun, I’d say. But anyways, enough about that. Let’s move on to….Normandie! This was the excursion that I went on about two weeks ago now? It was Veteran’s Day weekend, which I thought was very appropriate. The excursion was that Saturday. Whether or not it was planned out like that, I don’t know. It was the largest group yet for an excursion. We filled up two and a half buses. Most of us were Americans but other kids in CIDEF went as well as some regular UCO kids I think.
When my family and I were in Paris a few years ago, we took a day and went up and had a tour of the beaches. The tour was in English so I was curious to see what it would be like with everything in French. We didn’t have a personal tour guide this time but it was still cool. We visited the Memorial Museum in Caen, the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, and Pointe du Hoc. The museum was new to me, and it was fricking huge. Okay, well, space-wise it wasn’t enormous. It was still two stories but not as big as say one of the Smithsonians. When I say huge I mean more about information. At one point, it kind of reminded me of the Churchill Museum in London because there was just so much information. If you haven’t been to the Churchill Museum and you visit London, go. It’s mind-blowing. But, back to Normandie. We spent four hours there and Natalie and I had to kind of skip a few of the last rooms because there was a film at 11:30 we were supposed to see so we didn’t get to finish but it’s pretty incredible. If you go through the museum chronologically (some of us were advised to view the last two rooms first because there were so many of us. In doing that, we could still view the museum and not lose time waiting for the first few rooms to clear) you start with the end of WWI. The rooms then lead you through all the major events up through D-Day and the end of WWII. There’s photos on the walls of battlefields and people heiling Hitler, framed propoganda posters, letters home written by soldiers, and even pieces of buildings that were hit by bombs and exploding shells. And in one part a Nazi flag is on display. I found that impressive. Why that in particular, when there was so many other things as well? I’m not sure. Maybe seeing a physical symbol of the hate and the mentality from that era made it more real. But the Nazi flag wasn’t the only thing that made an impact on me. There was also a men’s uniform from one of the concentration camps and a set of dog tags from an American soldier, Harry T. Labinski.
There were also quotes from different people like Churchill and Hitler. One quote in particular by Hitler caught my eye. I wasn’t a fan of it at all. Not that most people were/are fans of Hitler but you get my meaning. The quote went as follows: “Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should suceed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of the Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how someone could have such an intense hatred for a group of people. What did they ever do to him?
After the museum (and lunch) we headed for the American Cemetery. When you visit the American Cemetery, you are actually visiting a tiny piece of the US as the land on which the cemetery rests was granted to the US by France. Has anyone ever been to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia? The American Cemetery is similiar to that one. There is a memorial at the front of the Cemetery, where visitors typically enter. Opposite this memorial, about halfway through the cemetery, is a non-denominational chapel that is open to the public. Beyond the chapel, at the back of the cemetery, are two statues. As at Arlington Cemetery, the grave markers are placed very precisely so that no matter which way you turn, you still see perfect rows but whereas all the markers at Arlington are the same, the ones at the American Cemetery are either a cross or a Star of David depending on the soldier’s religion. I thought that that was really nice. Even though it was overcast and had been raining earlier that day, all of that just seemed to add to the scene. It seemed right. And the place is breathtaking in its own way. Not in an overwhelming, in your face, obvious kind of breathtaking but in a calmer, peaceful, quieter kind of way.
After the cemetery, we made a brief stop at Omaha Beach. It’s changed since my family and I visited 3 or 4 years ago. There’s now a memorial piece just before the sand and on the sand are three new abstract sculptures collectively called “Les Braves”. Each abstract piece represents a different aspect of what it meant to be a part of D-Day. Each of the three pieces has its own name and meaning. From left to right the three pieces are The Wings of Hope, Rise Freedom!, and The Wings of Fraternity. A dedication plaque nearby describes the reasoning behind each: “The Wings of Hope, so that the spirit which carried these men on June 6, 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to change the future. Rise Freedom! so that the example of those who rose against barbarity helps us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity. The Wings of Fraternity, so that this surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On June 6, 1944, these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.”
After Omaga Beach, there was one more stop before heading back to Angers. We went to Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc is pretty impressive. For those who don’t know what it is, Pointe du Hoc was a target during D-Day. Situated between Utah and Omaha beaches, this point housed bunkers and a battery of 155mm guns. The physical aftermath of the battle can still be seen today which is what sets Pointe du Hoc aside. Some of the casemates (giant concrete structures that housed and protected the guns) are still standing today while only the round concrete circle on which the gun stood of others have survived. Walking around you can also see where some of the bunkers were. Some are still collapsed piles of rubble, effects of the bombs, while others still stand. But walking around Pointe du Hoc may take some care because the area is littered with big craters, evidence of where bombs and shells exploded. There is a memorial erected on top of one of the casemates dedicated to the battle. In 1979, this field was given to the US federal government, so that now, when you visit Pointe du Hoc, you are actually visiting a tiny piece of the United States.
And thus ended our excursion to Normandie. It was a very long day (we had to be outside the school by 6:15am) but it was eye-opening and definitely worth it.