Friday, April 24, 2015

Normandy: Pointe du Hoc & Utah Beach

Pointe du Hoc is the peninsula that the Ranger Battalion sieged on D-Day. Brad endured the grueling torture of Ranger School and wanted to see what his fellow Rangers had accomplished. We ate a quick lunch of pb&j in the parking lot before heading out. 
There were craters all over (seriously, every few yards) from bombs that had been dropped on the area. They were fun for the boys (read: kids) to run through. 

The bunkers at Pointe du Hoc seemed to be more intact, with doors and everything. Not sure if it was because more of them were underground than the others, or what? But, it made for fun adventures...again, for the boys. 

The views were beautiful and I was impressed with the cliff's that the Rangers scaled to get to the enemy forces. I guess that's what being a Ranger is all about... (and those waters!?! gorgeous!) 

Inside one of the bunkers/gunnery areas that was right on the cliff, they had a plaque for the Rangers who lost their lives in the battle. 

After Pointe du Hoc, we headed towards Utah Beach. They had a small museum there that we walked through before heading down to the beach. It had a bunch of war memorabilia and gear. 

Our FINAL stop in the Normandy area was the Sainte-Mere-Eglise church. This church was made famous when, on D-Day, a paratrooper got caught on the corner of the churches tower. He never made it to the ground to fight in the battle! He hung there for something like 2-3 hours, pretending to be dead, before he was eventually taken as a POW. They now have a fake man hanging there in his honor. 

After that, we hopped in the car and headed towards Mont St. Michel!! 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Normandy: American Cemetery

We stayed at this charming Bed & Breakfast just a few miles from the beach. The view, from our room, was beautiful that morning!! The beach was off to the left...

So adorable!! 

We headed to the American Cemetery. When we got there we saw a group of soldiers down on Omaha Beach and Brad's curious side got the best of him and we wandered down. The tide was really far out so you could see more of the rubbish that had been left behind from the war. Like a boat!? So crazy. 

These soldiers, it turns out, were a group of cadets from the military school in the United Kingdom. They had come to Normandy on a field trip of sorts. But, watching them on the beach made the events of D-Day even more realistic. They had all the cadets run out to the water, and roll around so they were drenched to the bone. 

They then, ran up the beach, while their instructors were shouting things like "air bomb!", "grenade!", "artillery!" to which the cadets would drop to the ground. The instructors would point to certain cadets and announce their death. The cadet would then stay put, while the rest of the cadets continued up the beach. This happened several times until they reached the top of the sand. 

At the end of the exercise, there were 3 or 4 cadets still standing (i.e.: "alive"). They had everyone stand up, turn around and see how many of their fellow soldiers would have been killed if this had been the actual D-Day and not just a reenactment. It was pretty neat to watch and see the reality of D-Day. 

After that, we headed back up to the American Cemetery...enjoying the beauty along the way! 

The grounds were beautiful and it was incredible to see how many men were buried there. There was mostly crosses, though a few Jewish stars were in the mix. You would often come across a grave that was labeled "here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God"

The Niland brother's are buried in the cemetery. They are the brother's that Saving Private Ryan is loosely based on! I did a report about that movie my Freshman year of High School, so it was neat to see that. Much of the movie is fiction but those brothers are most definitely real. 

This guy was in the Ranger Battalion so Brad wanted a picture of his grave. And it was neat to see a Medal of Honor grave. It was just interesting to walk around and see where all the men were from...lots from the east coast, so we would get really excited if we found a Utah or Idaho or Arizona. They weren't very commonly seen. 

There is a memorial at the front of the cemetery. We didn't spend too much time there, but after seeing what we wanted to see, we headed off to Pointe du Hoc! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Normandy: Day 1

After Disneyland Paris, we headed to the coast of France to see Normandy. Ever since getting to Germany, in 2012, Normandy has probably been one of our top desired locations to tour, I knew we would regret it if we didn't make time to see it. And I'm so glad we did. 

The first beach we stopped at was Gold Beach. This was the beach invaded by the Canadians, so not much American connection here. Kason wanted to get in the water but apparently it was freezing so he spent the rest of the time on the sand. The big chunks of cement you see in the water are casemates that the troops would line up, and use to get to the shore from their ships, out at sea. Several of them are left on the shores of Normandy. 

We didn't stay long at Gold Beach, as we wanted to make sure we had enough time to enjoy the others. It sure was a beautiful view with a quaint little town. 

Next up, we headed up the beach a little to enjoy Omaha Beach. This was probably the most somber and life changing moment of the trip. It seems extreme to say that! But, it's really true. It was incredibly humbling to walk those beaches and think that 70 years prior, 34,000 men stormed these waters to fight for freedom. They had no knowledge of what their outcome would be but, still they were willing to fight. 2400 fought to the death on Omaha Beach alone. 

I can't even imagine coming off the ship and knowing you would instantly be shot at by the German's on shore. Yet, somehow, that knowledge didn't phase the soldiers. They fought and ran to their safety, while watching their fellow soldiers fall beside them left and right. 

Absolutely humbling. 

I will never forget the feeling I had while I walked the sandy beaches of Omaha beach. So much love, gratitude and pride for the soldiers of WWII. 

These are a couple of the memorials that are scattered along the beach...

This is the view directly up from the beach, the enemy had so much coverage! I can only imagine it being a daunting task, even thinking about making it to the edge of the grass. All over in the grass were German bunkers, with crazy thick cement. On a few of them you could see dents where bombs had barely touched the surface. The bunkers were open so you could go in and explore, which Kason and Brad had a blast doing. It was surreal to stand in there and see the view the German soldiers had of the beach. A clear, perfect view of the American's storming the beaches.

This was the view from inside one of the bunkers: 

And the thick walls, barely scathed by the attacks: 

On the beaches, you could occasionally find pieces of metal that have lasted 70 years. The enemies would put them on the beaches to deter anyone from approaching the "safe zone". 

The rest of the time on the beach was spent exploring the bunkers, collecting beach treasures and just enjoying the scenery. It really is beautiful. Hard to believe something so awful happened here. 

After a couple hours on the beach, we wandered back to the car, to grab some dinner and some zzz's! 

The houses in the Normandy region were CHARMING. I wanted them all. This one was one of the favorites that we passed: 

We found a restaurant, near Gold Beach actually, to enjoy some dinner. While looking at the menu, Brad saw something that he thought was similar to a dish he would eat on his mission in Uruguay, (I believe small intestine), which he loved (not sure why anyone would love that!?). So when the waiter came out to take our orders, Brad went to order that and the waiter asked, "You know what it is right!?" 

"Oh yeah! I love it!" 

Well......turns out, it wasn't intestine, it was actually stomach. Which Brad cannot STAND. Ha! He knew as soon as he smelled the dish, he wouldn't be eating much other than fries that night for dinner. However, we all had a good laugh about the experience! Never a dull moment in European travels!