Thursday, May 12, 2016

Normandy, France

Our next stop was the Normandy area of France.  We stayed in a town called Caen, pronounce      Ka+(throat clear).  I have a hard time with the French language, all those letter that don't make the sound that you think they should and quite often make no sound at all.  But the food in France in exceptional, of all the European countries we felt it was most like our American home, and we found that we liked all of France much more than we expected to.  
It doesn't get much more French than eating crepes in a beret.  This was a statue
of the famous picture taken in Times Square at the news of the end of the war.  
It was constructed right outside the war museum in Caen.  Caen was the first major
town liberated by the Allied forces.  Max gave an excellent description of the day's 
events in his journal so I will let him be the spokesman for most of this post.

One of the section of the temporary harbor used to bring tanks, guns, supplies
ammunition, everything needed to support the Allies onto mainland Europe.
Max, "Today we went to the beaches of Normandy.  We drove for a while to the beach Gold.  We looked at some heavy artillery and saw a museum.  It was dedicated to the making of the harbor.  We saw diagrams and models, (not my favorite), artillery, soldiers packed with grenades, rifles, anti and non anti machine guns, flares, and lots of other stuff.  Then we saw a documentary of the making of the harbor.  They made the harbor in England, floated the pieces to France, put them together, made breakwaters partly out of there own ships that they sunk to the bottom.  [We saw how to make the German's think the Allies were going to invade somewhere other than Normandy] they raided and distracted the Germans and fooled them with an inflatable army and fake tank tracks.  Then we stormed the beach.  After we had seen some cool stuff we had lunch."
Tanks and guns were more of a favorite than diagrams for the kids.  I found it fascinating, however, to learn about the effort that went into creating a way to bring supplies, men, ect. onto mainland Europe.  It makes sense, and seems obvious, I just had never thought about it before.  Preparations for D-Day began years before the actual invasion could occur.  It included the construction of a pre-fab harbor, decoy troops, and an extremely elaborate scheme of deceptive information.  They also involved a multitude of countries, U.S. and Great Britain being major players of course, but so was Canada (Aaron is standing next to what Canada's flag was at that time) and many other European countries had soldiers and supplies they contributed to the cause.  
Remnants of the temporary harbor.

"After that we saw the German Gun battery.  We first saw one gun with its huge barrel down the thing could shoot for 12 miles.  The allies dropped two million pounds of bombs on the battery.  These were some nasty guns.  After the guns we saw some bunkers.  They were crammed underground stink pots. I get why they made them to get not bombed."

"First [at the cemetery] we saw the visitors center.  It had video autobiographies of some soldiers and we saw tools of the resistance fighters.  Then we saw the cemetery.  There was a huge cornfield of white Christian crosses and some with stars of Hebrew.  9,318 graves all perfectly aligned in a sea of marble."
I was surprised at how much time the kids took reading some of the stories found in the visitors center.  It seemed like they began to see that the war was not just a big event, but that it impacted individuals and families.  When we came to the fallen soldiers monument (below) they stood quietly and stared for a long time.  I wondered what was going through their minds, or how much they'll remember later, but I know it had an impact.

Our last stop was Point du Hoc.  An area held by German gunners and key to getting a hold on Normandy's coast.  The allied bombers dropped tons and tons of bombs on this area.  After the war it was left as a memorial and a reminder to all those who died here, and all along this coast.  The craters left by the bombs were huge!  Max is standing in one below and you can see how small he is in comparison.  To the kids, however, these were a playground.  They ran down one side and up the other, again and again.

The cliffs the American Rangers had to scale to take the guns at Point du Hoc.
"We learned soldiers hooked rockets up to grappling hooks that were hooked to rope ladders and stormed the cliffs.  Bombs had made huge craters in the ground.  We climbed down and looked at remnants of bunkers that had been targeted.   It was a fun day.  I was impressed by the craters."
At the top they were met by razor wire and angry Germans.

At the end of the day I balanced the camera on remnants of a blasted bunker for a family photo op.  I'm so grateful we were able to visit this incredible part of the world.  I don't know what my kids will remember or take away, but I know it had an impact.  That the events of June 6, 1944 and those that followed will mean something to them.  Maggie was surprisingly spirited in her writing that night.

Maggie, "Today we went to the D-Day memorials.  I didn't like it one bit.  I hate to think about war and conflict in this sort of term because I am forced to remember the dead and I just get this gut feeling that it is all wrong and horrible.  It feels like I am trying to digest a stone.  I mean no other species fights so why should we?  Over money?  Well we are the ones that give it value.  Over land?  why must we have country boundaries?  It makes no sense yet it has been that way since before the pharaohs of Egypt.  We fight over things that in the long run are useless."


  1. Maggie's insights and feelings are profound. Also, would you please give me more french lessons? I love your pronunciations. :)

  2. Normandy was a strange place to visit. I felt like it was almost bad that my kids were running on the beach playing in the can a place that was once such a horrible site become a playground? I really loved the place and it sure made me think about how lucky I am.