In the spring of 2006, I had the privilege to help lead a group of University of Tulsa Newman Center students on a pilgrimage to the Shrines of France. One day, while traveling through Normandy, we stopped to visit the D-Day beaches and the American Military Cemetery there.
It is really difficult to describe what it’s like to visit a place of such historical significance to our country. The area is impeccably maintained, as it should be, and it fills you with such strong emotions when you actually set foot on this hallowed ground.
In the photos below, you can see that we were able to walk the ground in and around Pointe du Hoc, more or less the line between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. The scene of intense fighting on D-Day, you can still see the craters made by the naval bombardment which preceded the troop landings. It was very powerful to see those craters and the remnants of the German observation posts and gun emplacements, to look down the cliffs to the sandy beaches where the Allied troops landed on June 6, 1944.
It’s impossible to truly grasp the enormity of that day, but yet it still whispers to you from the history lessons we’ve all studied or perhaps seen in film. It’s serenely quiet now, but the gravity of what happened there remains.
Not far away is the Normandy American Cemetery where fallen soldiers from D-Day and throughout the European Theater are buried. When you cross through the entry gate of the cemetery, it immediately feels like home, like America, although clearly in France. I don’t know if it was a conscious intent when building it, but I found it intensely palpable and comforting to know that those at rest there weren’t in a place that felt foreign.
If you don’t know the stories of D-Day, then please take the time to learn something about that “longest day” as it’s been called. There are many excellent resources on the internet. Here’s one (link) from the US military you can start with.
I particularly like this story about Pee Wee Martin, 93 years old, who parachuted into Normandy today on the 70th anniversary of the invasion. He’s from the famous 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The fantastic “Band of Brothers” series recounts the story of the 506th’s Easy Company.
If you go to France, please visit this important place and help keep alive the memory of all those who fought there and throughout the world during WWII.
(Note: some of these photos were taken by Fr. Bryan Ketterer when he was a student.)