As promised, I’m writing about my program’s planned excursion to the Normandie region of France even though I should be studying for my exam because this is important and if I don’t write a post about it now I wont have the time later.
My study abroad program, Abroadco, organized a day trip to the city of Caen with a guided tour of the D-Day beaches and the Caen-Normandie Mémorial Cité de l’Histoire (WWII museum). Luckily, a motivated student in our group decided to ask if we could change our return tickets to Sunday and stay another day in Caen.
Leaving bright and early Saturday morning, we arrived by train a few hours later in Caen. First stop was the WWII museum to walk through the memorial display for those soldiers who fought and died during the war. The museum was especially powerful in its chronological display of events leading up to the second Great War. It was amazing and extremely grave to feel so connected to the past, being in the same region where this keystone event in the world’s history took place.
After reading the many displays, following the timeline, and learning many of the intricacies of the War I hadn’t previously been aware of we were showed a un-narrated movie (not to be confused with a silent one) of the events taking place on D-Day (called J-Jour in France) which simultaneously showed graphic representations of troop movements, both Allied and Axis, and the progression of the war from that point forward. It was great to see this film so well put-together but as there was so much to see in the museum itself, a few of us wished to head back to finish our searching; besides, lunch could wait.
On a side note, I thought I’d explain the thought behind the name D-Day/J-Jour since I just found out and thought it interesting. Apparently, in military operations, when an event is to take place at an unknown time they refer to it as “T-time.” So following that logic the Americans would call the day they planned to deploy troops into France D-Day as President Roosevelt did not know exactly the day he would give the go-ahead. Conditions in the region had to be near-ideal for a successful operation. The French word for “day” is “jour” thus they dubbed the operation J-Jour.
After leaving the museum we met our tour guide on the bus and drove the last 15 or so kilometers to the beaches. Driving past one could see ancient-looking towns, vast expanses of (beautiful) land, and peaceful scenery leading up to the shores. Seeing bunkers nestled in the rolling hills was a reminder to the unbelievable violence that took place only 70 short years ago.
Arriving at the coast, we had free time to travel down to the beaches, explore the memorial on official American soil, and think about all those lives sacrificed for our freedom. I know that in no way will it be possible to convey how powerful an experience this was through writing, but if I could urge you to visit this site some day I promise you wouldn’t regret it.
The cemetery, donated to the United States by France, is officially considered American soil. The contrast of steel gray waters against green lawn punctuated by so many white marble crosses felt more like a famous work of art with a somber story than reality. How can it be true that all those soldiers perished, now decayed and returned to the earth, fought on these beaches and gave their lives to protect the principles they held so dear and for the liberty of their loved ones and kind in general?