Friday, June 04, 2004


Reflecting on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day....

About four years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a tour of D-Day beaches with a group of veterans. It was a pretty amazing experience, you get a much better perspective of the challenges when you see the terrain and formidable defenses the German's had set up.

Learning about D-Day in high-school history class was kind of like watching Star Wars. (Ok maybe not as fun as watching Star Wars), but like routing for the heroes in the movies, when learning about WWII I had this underlying belief that "Of course we would win, we're the good guys." Touring the beaches of Normandy opened my eyes to the challenges we faced so long ago.

The first thing that blew me away was the artificial port we created at Arromanches. The two main French ports were too heavily defended to the Allies to take, so as part of the invasion, we floated huge piers across the channel and built a port at the same time we started the landing. In fact we built two ports. (One was destroyed in a huge storm some years ago). Some good pictures can be found at this link.

The other aspect of the beaches the boggles the mind is the formidable defenses the Germans had set up. To use my tired Star Wars analogy again, these fortifications were like the Death Star. Even 56 years later, the thick concrete bunkers and huge gun placements still dot the cliffs along the beach.

Another aspect of Normandy that you don't get a good overview of in history books are the hedgerows. To reduce wind erosion of the soil, French famers planted hedgerows between their fields. Each row of bushes is built atop a mound of earth about three feet high. So, even after we stormed the beaches, the Germans could keep falling back behind these ready made fortifications. It was incredible.

The fact the tens of thousands of American's, most in their late teens or early twenties, threw themselves onto the beach and actually held their ground is mind boggling when you walk among the fields.

What is also worth noting is that the people of Normandy and France are still grateful for the allies efforts. The local villages, when hearing that D-Day Veteran's were in town, let out school and lined the streets to welcome our tour bus waiving American Flags. In each town I visited from Saint Marie Elgiese, Aromaches, Beayoux, and Caen the American Flag, British Flag fly along side the French tri-color in each town square. The Politician's like to hark on the fact that the French should be grateful for our help, and despite what we've been told over the last few years, they are.

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