For Americans, Canadians, and citizens of the British Isles, this Sunday marks the 77th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, otherwise known as D-Day. For those of you who aren’t familiar, D-Day was the beginning of the end for the Germans in WWII. The Nazi flag flew from the south of France, to the shores of the Baltic, to the arctic regions of Norway, and to as far south as Greece and southern Italy. Yet once 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, that flag began to fly a whole lot less.
A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Europe, taking time to explore both England and France, and one of our stops just had to be Normandy. We wanted to stand on the soil that hosted the decisive shift in the struggle against the Nazis. It was an incredible experience and one that words alone won’t do justice. So, let us take you through this little gallery of photos we have put together from our trip. We hope that it brings history to life.
This photo is just one German bunker in the 3,850 mile stretch of seaside fortifications that was known as the Atlantic Wall. This “wall” was completed under the guidance of Erwin Rommel at the behest of Hitler himself, meant to deter and defend against an amphibious invasion from Britain.
What really struck us was the sheer size of the cannon, as well as the bunker itself. Even though it is now an antique, you can still sense its power and to think that there were hundreds just like it lining the French coast. Standing there allowed us to understand just how strong the Nazi’s grip on Europe was, and it almost makes you hold your breath, as if it were June 5th, 1944, and the war had not yet ended.
This is the dagger-shaped Rangers’ Memorial at Pointe du Hoc, a memorial which remembers the efforts of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions led by James E Rudder. Their mission was to destroy German artillery batteries which would lay waste to Allied troops on the beach.
In order to destroy said batteries, Rudder and his men used daggers to scale this 100-ft cliff under heavy fire and resistance. They lost more than half their men in the struggle. Standing at the top of the slope now, which is far steeper than the picture makes it appear, almost makes you go numb. The mental and physical toughness it must have taken to complete such a mission is almost unimaginable; it seems unfeasible. Yet Rudder and his men emerged victorious, and although the Germans had deceived the Allies and moved their artillery away from Pointe du Hoc, Rudder and the 2nd and 5th Battalions secured a safe landing zone on the beach for other troops. Their sacrifices were not in vain.
Walking through the sprawling cemeteries of Normandy, you would ever so often come across a gravestone in the shape of the Star of David. Seeing these, which mark the graves of Jewish soldiers, fills you with a sense of triumphant irony. Hitler, with all his anti-Semitic sentiments and heinous acts of genocide, was defeated in part by members of the Jewish faith and people. Whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or another religious or non-religious affiliation, you can’t help but be proud of these fallen soldiers.
Pictured in these photos is a German cemetery. This was perhaps the one experience at Normandy which surprised us the most. The Germans in a WWII context are always painted as villainous and evil, yet when you take the time to read the individual names on each headstone, you realize they were only human. Many were brainwashed into believing their race was superior to all others, but some might not have been; they were just fulfilling their duty, or defending their home. We were surprised to feel just as sad here as we did in the Allied cemeteries, a feeling we never could have expected.
All in all, D-Day claimed the lives of more than 4,000 men. Compared to the 156,000 that landed that day, the death toll doesn’t seem too great, but that all changes when you walk amongst the gravestones. They sprawl in all directions, rolling over hills in long, seemingly endless rows. Each one signifies a man with a story, a life and family, friends, a spouse, and maybe a little girl or boy. Each one paid the ultimate price, but their loss paved the way for millions to be saved and liberated.
Looking forward to this Sunday, PatrioticMe hopes that this gallery has brought the history of D-Day closer to home. Help us remember the sacrifices made, honor the fallen, and continue to spread love for this great country.