Monday, June 13, 2011

normandy and bayeux

i have to admit, ever since i was a little girl, i have been fascinated by all things world war ii. music. clothes. journalism. even the war. i always joke that i was born in the wrong decade. while i can only imagine that it wasn't a glorious time to be alive and horrible things were happening every day to which no person was immune, i love what it represents. 

i loved learning about this era in high school. one of my favorite books is the greatest generation {and only partly because i have a not-so-secret crush on tom brokaw}. and my most listened to station on the car radio is kcea - big band hits of the 30s, 40s and 50s. i'm not kidding. 

that being said, i never knew much about dday and what happened on the shores of normandy. so, when it was suggested that we cut a day off our paris stay to tour the dday beaches and sites, i was definitely on board. 

since it was our only activity for the day, we decided to act upon the suggestion of a friend familiar with the area and hire a personal tour guide. that was the best decision we made the entire trip. and was more than well worth the extra money. paul woodage, an english native, who has dedicated his life to studying dday as well as wwii in general, was our guide for the day. i highly recommend him. 

we didn't step foot into one museum, which was fine by me. because we got personal stories and pictures and information we could never have received by visiting an exhibit. we stood in the places those soldiers stood. we crouched behind bunkers they crouched behind. we saw the rugged yet breathtaking landscape. the tide. the fog. we peered over the 300 foot cliffs that soldiers scaled in five minutes flat with no assistance. we found ourselves in the hedgerows that served as natural hideouts for both friend and foe. we stood on american soil at the american cemetery and also visited british commonwealth graves and the german cemetery where we learned that america earned white crosses for winning - germans had to settle for black. 

it was amazing to hear stories from all perspectives but especially those recorded by the soldiers in the action. to understand all that went right and all that went wrong. to see the scales tip back and forth throughout that fateful june 6th and the days following and eventually settle in our favor. 

it was humbling to hear accounts of soldiers who did make it, but felt guilt and remorse their entire lives as a result.

overall, it was a heart warming and heart wrenching day. i left with a greater understanding - and therefore an even greater respect - for what transpired that day.  

"history is not a black and white page. 
it's about feeling it, touching it. 
it becomes part of you."
-paul woodage

we stayed in a stunning french town called bayeux and again ate some delicious food and pastries and celebrated ed and lindsey's 7th wedding anniversary. they're getting itchy!

feel free to stop reading here. the following are just stories i don't want to forget:
  • last minute changes or additions made that weren't tested - like new jackets that filled with water, life jackets on hips that tipped the soldiers when inflated. 
  • the easterly moving tide moved the soldiers  200-800 yards down the beach, landing them in areas they were completely untrained for. 
  • 70-90% of the leaders were killed right from the beginning because they landed in the wrong spots. 
  • FUSAG - first u.s. army group was actually fake! actors recorded radio broadcasts and canvas tanks were set up for aerial pictures. 
  • when tourists come to normandy, they take pictures of the war sites. when veterans come to normandy, they take pictures of the kids playing on the beach - it represents what they fought for in the first place. 
  • jimmy monteith - not a soldier you would peg for a hero - was able to get two tanks of people {about 40 men} up and around to the backside of the hills taking out a german spot. greatly reduced the death toll. he was killed 30 minutes before reinforcements arrived.
  • an afghanistan veteran on one of paul's previous tours was silent all day except for saying one thing: "history has taught us two things. first, the negative - sadly we repeat some mistakes. but luckily, when things go wrong, a "jimmy monteith" will always emerge."
  • paul: "they are called the greatest generation because time put them to the test. i believe any generation would do the same, if tested."
  • they still find 10-20 german soldiers a year {because they were retreating, no one cared to stay behind and make sure everyone made it.}
  • lt. john spalding led a group of men up the bluffs by crawling on their bellies by the cemetery. that bluff was a mine field and 30 men were killed shortly after by walking up it. scientific theory is that crawling spread out their weight so the mines weren't set off. lt. spalding said, "the lord was with us and we had an angel on each shoulder on that trip." he only lost one of his 32 men. 
  • placing a rock on the jewish graves means, "i have been." - i came to see you. 
  • harley reynolds was the "first through the wire." he just ran right through the wire to the top and started firing. soldiers could see the smoke from his gun and it boosted morale. 
  • czech soldier richard lehniger served as "dick leonard." he, and many other soldiers, changed the way he spoke, lived, worshiped and more to serve with the allies. 
  • there were 500 germans living underground in barracks blocks at point du hoc - dentists, brothels, etc.
  • soldiers who scaled the bluffs trained on 300 ft cliffs in wet weather at night with their arms tied behind their backs. 
  • the signals at point du hoc didn't work so the reinforcements went to omaha beach instead. they didn't arrive at point du hoc until 48 hours later. 200 soldiers were left to hold off 1000+ germans. only 65 were left on june 8th. 
  • sgt. william "l rod" petty nearly wasn't able to fight because he had no teeth and wouldn't have passed the health examination. he said, "i don't want to bite the germans, i want to kill them!"
  • the bunkers at point du hoc were under construction when the allies landed. 1942 bunkers had wood plank lines in the cement. 1944 bunkers are built with cement blocks because they couldn't get any wood delivered to the area.
  • paul has only ever let one person who didn't pay tag along to his tour. it was matt damon. 


Michelle said...

I just have to say I am loving my own tour of Europe so far!

Rob and Marseille said...

I love all the extra stories! and the pictures!

Amelia said...

#1. This trip looks like THE MOST AMAZING trip ever! You saw so much! How did you know about all of these places and where to go? I am so happy for you guys that you got to get away and do this!
#2. I LOVE your yellow shirt. And your shoes. And your blue dress...okay, all of your clothes.
#3.You are RIPPED!