Yesterday we took the boys to the D-Day 70th Anniversary Air Show at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. I’m not a war buff by any stretch of the imagination, but my appreciation for World War II has grown since moving to the east of England three years ago.
Plus, Normandy was the last stop of our big road trip. Our visits to Pointe du Hoc and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach are weighing on me this Memorial Day.
The history of the world runs much deeper than the great wars of the last century, I know. It’s just that I find it difficult to comprehend the scope of the loss that comes with war. The relics of ancient battles seem so…ancient. We’re so often shielded from the devastation of modern war in other parts of the world. We see examples of war in movies, which make the horror at once real and unreal. Very few of us, in terms of a percentage of the US population, actually witness it (and thank you to our service members for that). Standing on the grounds of a world-changing battle helped me to understand ever so slightly the reality of war.
Pointe du Hoc, atop a 100-foot cliff between Omaha and Utah beaches, was fortified by Germans in the second World War. Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to seize the position on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Here’s where my ignorance will shine: I don’t have more details to offer than that. There are many people who have dedicated years to the study of this day who can state the events more eloquently. You can read more here.)
The area has been relatively untouched since, with abandoned bunkers, stripped artillery and now-overgrown bomb craters left behind from the assault. For the first time in my life, I registered that I was standing on ground on which a battle occurred. I could SEE the depth of the craters. I could see the rubble of a bombed casement. Men – husbands and brothers and sons, most younger than me – rode boats through choppy waters in the cover of night to initiate an attack here from wayyyy down below those rocky cliffs.
Following this assault was a massive storming of the area beaches by Allied forces, 156,000 total including 73,000 American troops. That day alone nearly 14,700 sorties were flown by Allied forces. Estimates of casualties reach 10,000, including more than 4,400 killed. In one day. By air and sea. Battle continued for 76 days. I mention the numbers because I find them absolutely astounding. Don’t you?
Our time in Normandy was rained on and we were chilled by the wind. But you have to be a special-in-the-wrong-way kind of person to complain about a little lousy weather when you’re overlooking Omaha Beach at the American Cemetery. Thousands of Americans approached this beach feeling pretty certain they would never return home. Yet they summoned up all of the bravery and courage of the world and charged off those boats, despite their fear, to end an era of horrors to which few of us can relate.
Yet there are still men and women agreeing to do such things on behalf of our country today. These are the things we must not forget this Memorial Day.
To all who have given everything on behalf of our nation, thank you.