Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Today we enjoyed the nicest weather so far with fair skies and plenty of sunshine. Our first stop of the morning, Dead Man's Corner, was a solemn reminder of the casualties of war. The place is named after the soldier left hanging from his tank after a battle. The original buildings remain and stand as a memorial and museum to commemorate the events that took place at that site. We then made our way down to the coast along Utah beach to the ceremony honoring the American Naval and Coast Guard Veterans. Students had ample time to explore the terrain and the newly opened museum before lunch at the infamous Roosevelt Cafe, which sits atop a WWII German communications bunker. After lunch we made our way through the villages of Normandy to Saint Marie Du Mont, where we were greeted with open arms by the town's mayor, and our Veterans were inducted as honorary citizens of the town. The mayor also presented the College with an honorary diploma of citizenship. As the ceremony concluded, we all raised our glasses of Coke in a toast, and due to the language barrier, said in unison one of the only French phrases that we know, "Oui, oui!" After the reception, we headed to Saint Mere Eglise, an important landing site for the Veterans of the 101st airborne division. There, a historic cathedral stands as a reminder of the events that took place. On the belfry hangs a replica of the paratrooper who hung there until he was cut down; surprisingly enough, he was still alive after being wounded in the foot. Our day concluded with a visit to a German cemetery. Unlike the cemeteries we have visited so far, the aura there was one of solemn peace rather than triumphant victory.
Throughout the day, we were given multiple opportunities to appreciate the sacrifices of American WWII Veterans. At Utah Beach, Courtney and Ben explored the far reaches of the low tide, which was hundreds of yards from where high tide reaches the shore. They stopped to take a picture, and within literally one minute the tide began to rise quickly. The two had ventured onto a peninsula-like area on the beach, surrounded on three sides by a few inches of water. When they turned around, they quickly realized that they were about to succumb to the rapidly changing tides. As Ben struggled to take off his tennis shoes and roll up his pants, Courtney snapped a quick action shot of the situation and proceeded to take off for higher ground. Shorter and apparently slower than Ben, her jeans were soaked to the thighs by the time she reached dry ground. Shortly thereafter Ben and Courtney shared their story with other students who quickly remembered Mr. Anderson's account of injuries that became fatal as wounded soldiers drowned in the rising tides. Courtney and Ben's seemingly comical experience gave much insight to what the soldiers faced that day and the potentially fatal results of natural forces.
Throughout the week we have seen many European re-enactors in many different regions of Normandy. It is amazing to see the welcome that we as Americans, especially the Veterans, continue to receive throughout France. People of all ages and nationalities constantly approach the Veterans to express thanks and gratitude for the sacrifices made during the war. Today, a man from the Czech Republic excitedly approached the "Infamous John Primerano," a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. He remembered John from a ceremony four years earlier. This chance meeting was yet another example of the respect paid in Europe to American WWII Veterans. At almost every ceremony we have attended, the speaker commented on the great friendship between France and the United States. We in the United States do not share the same perspective with the residents of Normandy because we live so far from the actual battle sites. Original German bunkers and munitions, war cemeteries, and military monuments are but a few of the things that remind the people of France of the sacrifices made in Normandy.
We look forward to the adventures that lie ahead as we depart for Belgium in the morning. We appreciate your support and ask for your continued prayers as we journey along.
-Courtney Brown and Jennifer Hurley