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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Looking Back to Normandy

Today I look back to a very unique experience that I was given a few years ago. I was with some mates and we were in Normandy, France getting up to go and see the beaches as well as the sites where some would say the beginning to the end of WWII started. We started on the edge of Sword Beach and began working our way across the beaches. I remember a few things very clearly. It was early spring and still very cold. The wind was coming off of the ocean and seemed to just cut right through you no matter what you where wearing.
We were looking at our surroundings and seeing old houses and structures that had been there long before the war and are still standing long after. At the tip of Sword we came across a small set of British headstones just right off of the beach. It immediately set the tone. On the beach all of the debris has been cleared and the view is beautiful; very peaceful, yet very sobering.

As we worked our way down through Juno and Gold we moved from the beach up to the land above where we went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This is where most of the men who died at Normandy are buried. This was a hard pill to swallow: looking out over all of the stones of fallen soldiers, then walking through them and reading your everyday American names aging all over from boys at 17 to grown men. For me the realization went in to full gear. I quickly thought about first joining the military and how young everybody in basic training was. These men just like us came from all walks of life in America and gave the ultimate sacrifice. From the Memorial the group I was with seemed to separate and kind of wander off in their own way just looking and reading and trying to take it in. For me it was very difficult to see all of the sacrifice in the thousands upon thousands of lives laying here. After a good amount of time we all came back together and talked for a moment. Shortly after we worked out way down on to Omaha Beach. This was a hard place to stand. After seeing the other beaches and noticing that they were at the widest point maybe 50 meters then looking at Omaha and its 250 to 300 meter kill zone was a little rough. However I believe that nothing other than pure American tenacity and grit could have taken this one. In a strange way there was still this feeling of peace that lay on this coast. As sad and hard as it was to be there a sense of honor and peace prevailed in my heart.

From Omaha we worked our way up to Pointe du Hoc. This is where the Rangers assaulted a cliff face ranging from 85 to over 100 feet high. This is also an area that was heavily bombed and shelled by the allies. None of the craters seemed to have been filled and it was quite an experience walking between them and several German bunkers and fortifications. The grass has grown over the landscape and has made this area very beautiful. There is a large memorial out on the point but we were not able to get to close. The cliffs have started to weather and the monument is in danger of sliding off. The view is still incredible. From there we moved to Utah Beach and had similar feelings as on Omaha. The beach was very wide and a difficult place to imagine having to come from the ocean onto this land.

The last stop for us was inland to Sainte-Mère-Église where elements from both the 82nd and 101st Airborne landed early the morning of the attack. The town had a great little museum that we attended and saw the famous church where an American Paratrooper hung for several hours before getting captured by the Germans. Once this town was liberated by the American Paratroopers it never fell back into the enemies' hands.

On a last note I have only been to one other place in my life that has had such a profound influence in my life. Normandy was such a wonderful and strange emotional roller coaster that I will never forget through out my life. May the blessings of Heaven keep those who have fallen.

By John West V.P. Sales, OPSGEAR®