It has been seventy-three years since the Allies landed in France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and still people travel to Normandy to see the beaches and visit the cemeteries.
My father served in North Africa and Italy during World War II, so I never planned to visit the D-Day beaches, but now I have done so twice. Once on a cruise around the British Isles, and again last October on a tour of Northern France. Both times I came away humbled by the sacrifices made there.
The D-Day invasion was a massive undertaking, with over 156,000 American, Canadian and British forces involved. Code named Operation Overlord, it was the largest amphibious landing in history.
The father of one of the men are tour was an engineer, and one of the first to hit the beaches. The engineers were sent in first to clear the beaches of land mines, under enemy fire. There were many casualties, but his dad survived to tell the story. We were all impressed by his bravery under fire.
One of the most impressive sites is at Pointe du Hoc, the location of German bunkers that were shelled during the fighting before the Army Rangers climbed the cliffs to take the high ground. There’s a monument to them.
The site has been pretty much left as it was after the battle, with the exception of the memorial and the grass and other plants that now grow there. It is a truly spectacular spot, with gorgeous ocean views. It’s hard to imagine what a hell it must have been seventy-three years ago.
The most moving part of the day’s tour was the visit to the American Cemetery at Colville, not the only D-Day cemetery. On the way, we passed the site of the first American cemetery, now reduced to a single memorial stone. The Colville site is a beautiful cemetery, meticulously maintained. Gazing out at the rows and rows of grave markers, most with crosses on top, but some with Stars of David or crescents, drives home the extent of the sacrifices made that long-ago day, and the mere thought of it brings tears to my eyes.
I’m feeling more poignant than usual this year, given the new cracks in the NATO Alliance that did much to stabilize the world order after World War II. I hope this will be a temporary rift between the US and our European friends and partners.