Friday, November 10, 2006
Remembering Normandy on Veterans Day
When traveling to Europe, Americans flock to Italy, Spain and the ever-popular England. Tourist travel to France (and visits to French restaurants) dropped dramatically after September 11, and now slowly is increasing again. Given French political censures of America's position in Iraq and just about everywhere else, it's easy for U.S. travelers to choose another country perceived as more welcoming.
Last summer my family and I found that a vacation spot still exists in France where Americans are loved for just being Americans: Normandy. In this province of France, you will routinely see French and American flags flying side by side. And it's the only place in France where you can find English translations beside the French text in the numerous World War II museums and tourist attractions. Normandy also features historical buildings with records dating back to the first millennium, seaside recreational sports and excellent restaurants. Best of all, the people here openly embrace Americans as heroes.
D-Day remains relevant
The D-Day numbers still surprise. Almost 175,000 British, American, and Canadian soldiers landed in Normandy on D-Day. The immediate casualties on that day numbered 4,500, or about 1 in 39. Most of the squads in the first landings faced almost total annihilation. Perhaps the most telling remark is taken from page 29 of the Steven Ambrose book D-Day: "Men in their late teens or early twenties have a feeling of invulnerability, as seen in the remark of Charles East of the 29
Nonetheless, many of the early landing units fared slightly better than predicted: only three out of four soldiers died. So there was a fighting chance and some would live to tell the tale. Despite the huge human cost on D-Day, most historians agree that it represented the turning point of WWII. The brave soldiers who died there are often credited with striking the blow for freedom that would ultimately defeat the enemy.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-mer, France, serves as the final resting place for U.S. soldiers who perished on D-Day and in the subsequent invasion. I have often heard that you must visit it, and in turn recommend it. Avenues and avenues of stark white marble headstones mark the 9,387 American soldiers who died here. Most of the headstones consist of a simple Latin cross; the Star of David designates the graves of soldiers who practiced the Jewish faith. After burial, the nearest kin of the some of the deceased requested return of the bodies. A full 61% of the soldiers' bodies here went back to the U.S. for stateside burial. A semicircular wall lists the names of another 1,557 missing Americans.
The U.S. Army first buried American soldiers here on June 8, 1944. After the war, the French people formally and gratefully granted 172 acres here in perpetuity to the American Battle Monuments Commission, a U.S. agency. From the cemetery grounds on the coast of Normandy, you can see Omaha Beach in the distance. A semicircular colonnade contains narratives of the military operations and records the landing sites. A long pool stretches out towards the lengthy rows of grave sites with a circular chapel at the far end. Behind the chapel statues represent the United States and Franceallied permanently because of D-Day history.
Looking for a Carlisle connection
Veterans Day, unlike Memorial Day, is a day for Americans to honor living veterans. If you know any veteran that fought in any war, in any service, remember to call him or her on Veterans Day or as soon as you get a chance. And if you find someone with a Carlisle connection who fought at Normandy, please let me know. I'd like to pass along the personal thanks extended by people I met in France who still remember the liberating Americans of 1944.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito