WWII battles took place in Europe. Many cities were destroyed. Too many lives were lost. War! What is it good for? I’m a peace freak hippie pacifist so I’ve always believed there were better, less destructive ways to settle international disputes. Maybe some day…
A recent visit to Pointe du Hoc, Saint Laurent sur Mer, Utah Beach, Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial further confirmed my anti-war views.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have visited these historic grounds. There is an energy difficult to describe surrounding the beaches, cliffs, monuments and grave markers. Peaceful. Respectful. Grateful. Heroic. Patriotic. Brave. Wasteful.
As I stood just yards from the Utah Beach Musee du Debarquement – the museum where a B26 is on display along with many accouterments and memorabilia from the war, I could almost hear the gunfire and see the bloodied bodies crumble and fall. The sands on Utah Beach are respectfully quiet; at least during my visit. The beach is long and wide. Very wide, even when the tide is high. There would have been no way to seek “protective cover” as the troops rushed from the military launches. Many died on Utah Beach.
The expansive beach stretches east to cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, onto the beaches of Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword where similar scenes unraveled. The 2nd Ranger Battalion soldiers were assigned to scale the steep, 100 foot cliff between Utah and Omaha Beaches. Their mission was to disable German guns posing a threat in both directions toward the beaches. Many did not survive the mission – which was considered a success. The visible signs set off by disabling the guns served as a cue for the troops waiting to storm the beaches. I found it much easier to relate to the history as I stood on the sands and visited the memorials. If it were feasible, all U.S. high school student would be given the option to visit.
Inside the museum, I was grateful to be alone when I read about the felt liners in the boots issued to German troops assigned to stand guard in the cold. As it was, the “felt” liners were constructed of human hair. Hair of the innocent Jews gassed to death in air tight chambers. Horrendous! Inhumane. Sickening. It wasn’t horrible enough to gas these people to death. They were scalped. Their hair used to warm the feet of those who hunted them, herded them and destroyed their futures with gas portals. Difficult to imagine the process of complete and total disregard for human lives. Can I get an “All Lives Matter!” here?
This tour day was a long one. We were chauffeured from one place to the next via air conditioned, comfortable bus. The troops who defended and invaded were far less pampered…and many died.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the final resting place for nine thousand, three hundred and eighty seven souls. Each one identified and laid to rest. Another one thousand, five hundred and fifty seven remain missing in action. No remains were recovered. Among the dead there are forty-five sets of brothers. More than ten thousand lives, just in the Normandy theater of war. An untold number of bodies were shipped back to the states, to their families to lay to rest.
The majority of the pristine,identical white marble headstones are crosses representing all Christian faiths. There are one hundred forty-nine Stars of David to honor those of Jewish faith. American Jews. Their European counterparts’ hair was used to warm German soldiers’ feet.
The markers are precisely installed. A look at the thousands, from any direction, give me the impression of troops standing at full attention awaiting inspection from the general. On the back of each marker, at the bottom – if it was found on the body- the serial number of each soul is engraved. Uniformity in service. Uniformity at rest. The vision is breathtakingly beautiful. Honorable. Majestic. Patriotic. Emotionally draining.
The cemetery grounds were gifted to the United States by France; maintained by us. The grounds are well manicured and calmly serene; directly in contrast to the cause and manner of sacrifices. It was an honor to pay homage to those who gave everything…for me. For you. For all of us. For the allied forces populations. And here we are, the twenty-first century, still sending individuals to defend our rights. Still burying those who give everything for the cause. The fight. The oil, the soil, whatever the fight is over. Duly respect and deepest gratitude to those who are brave enough and willing to do so. I mourn the fact that it still needs to be done. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up one day and the breaking news reports that finally, “there is peace on earth.” Everywhere!
The Garden of the Missing is represented by perfectly manicured trees, shrubs and rose beds around the empty grave plots. The names of the missing (1,557) are engraved on tablets nearby. Some of the missing were eventually recovered, identified and buried. In these cases a bronze rosette appears beside their name on the tablets.
During the tour of the area, there are many beautiful markers, monuments and memorials both at the beaches, the cliffs and the cemetery. The tour guide reported that the Normandy American cemetery is the largest among the U.S. military cemeteries. So if you have visited the Punch Bowl in Hawaii or the Arlington National, just visualize bigger. Ten thousand plus.
I found myself saluting some of the memorials depicting life size troops. It seemed appropriate, even though I my self have never served or defended. I honor, respect and thank all of those who have; do; will.
God bless you all!
Please click the link below for a virtual tour of the Normandy American Memorial Cemetery.