Saturday, January 30, 2010

D-Day Assault: Day One

My husband Steve, a major World War II buff, has long fantasized seeing the D-Day landing sites in Normandy, and—here we are. I saw the area in 1994, during the 40 year anniversary of the landings, and found it incredibly fascinating—and moving—so I was excited to take this trip with him.

We arrived in France yesterday, drove to Bayeaux (in the rain) with only a few minor mishaps, checked in at the fabulous Hotel D’Or, napped, had dinner—and got a good night’s sleep.

First thing this morning, we set out for Omaha Beach.

First on Steve’s agenda: stand at the shore line and look inland to see how utterly impossible this mission was. The beach, with no cover whatsoever; rocks—eventually; then hills that go straight up, from which there was constant fire from the Germans.

We found what was surely was one of three “draws,” roads that led up from the beach—and the gun emplacement protecting it. (Gun facing directly at the road.)

On down the road, we found the “official” Omaha Beach memorial, where we stood and surveyed the beach in both directions. Each landing craft unloaded 31 men, Steve said—and they came relatively slowly in the beginning, each one of those guys an easy mark.

We spotted a small gun emplacement set into a hill and hiked up to it. How strange to think of it occupied by a real person, looking out over the water, perhaps seeing the first of those landing crafts on the horizon that morning.

Monday night, before we left, I watched “Saving Private Ryan,” which I had avoided watching in the past because I thought it would freak me out too much. But watching it didn’t really faze me at all. I knew it was a movie, I knew the blood and fear weren’t real.

Just imagining that German in the gun emplacement, the flimsy landing craft on the horizon filled with men who knew that, within moments, they might die seemed more real to me than anything somebody else’s imagination could create on the screen.

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