The Greatest History Lesson

Trip Start Aug 02, 2010
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Trip End Oct 22, 2010


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Flag of France  , Normandy,
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Take out your military history books and turn to page 220.

The date was the 6th of June, 1944, but in my case August 18th, 2010. I boarded a coach bus at exactly 6:30 am. We didn't want to be late afterall, this was to be the day that changes the face of history, at least my history. As I boarded that bus, I couldn't help but feel as though this was my own D-Day. As a history buff, I had always wanted to visit the Normandy beaches, but honestly, never thought it to be possible. Today, I can cross something off my bucket list.

As we made the 3 hour trek from Paris to Caen, the capital of upper Normandy, our tour guide gave us a brief overview of the day, which included stops at a local museum in Caen, Pointe-du-Hoc, Omaha Beach, Port Churchill and finally Juno Beach where our good old Canadian boys fought bravely.

The museum was good, however I didn't go to see a museum, I went to see the beaches, get a real life feel for what these brave soldiers went through on that fateful day.Our first stop was Pointe du Hoc. Now this landing is a very unknown and obscure piece of that day. However, in terms of views and getting a feel for that day, today so to speak, it was by far the best. Old German bunkers still remain, and massive holes that were bombarded by Allied ships everywhere, as far as the eye can see and there is even some remains of old barbwire. I really can't explain it, nor do it any justice.

Now the history lesson (what else are you reading). Pointe du Hoc was essentially a massive cliff top gun emplacement that the Germans controlled. This was a job for US 2nd Ranger Battalion. There task was to scale these some 100 foot cliffs before the landings even took place and then attack and destroy the German coastal defense guns, which were believed to be aimed at Utah and Omaha beach. Later they had realized that the Germans had actually moved them and had to go further inland to find them, which they eventually did. Out of 255 Rangers who began that day, only 90 made it. I couldn't imagine watching a colleague scaling these cliffs, only to get hit by a bullet, following down, and then, you're next.

Now off to Omaha beach, the biggest and probably most famous landing site. It was the site of Saving Private Ryan (or is it Saving Ryan's Privates). Today, its essentially a beach. Where tourists and locals flock to catch some sun, if any (as it rains something like 200 days out of the year in Normandy). But again, knowing what happened on that day and seeing it first hand was surreal. To think of what it was like there in 1944 makes you take a step back. On this 100 km stretch of beach 5,000 American soldiers lost there lives. That's in one single day. I read a quote at the memorial there that stated “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, the leading company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded... It became a struggle for survival and rescue.”

Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This is the site of the famous cemetery you would see on TV and movies. The cemetery is located near Omaha  beach and covers some 200 acres. Here rests 9,387 American soldiers whom were mostly killed during the Normandy beach invasions. Rows upon rows of identical white crosses or Stars of David are in perfect condition. But again, words can't explain the feeling you get when you walk these rows and rows of crosses. I seriously teared up, yes, I do have a sensitive side ladies.

Our next and final stop was Juno Beach where the good old Canadian boys fought and fought valiantly. Like Omaha, today its essentially a beach. But again, just being there, to get a feel for the place, to think of what our boys went through is unimaginable. Just thinking of the men on those ships, seeing the mass armada of ships upon ships ready to attack. Landing and taking fire from the Germans. Its incredible to think about this day, when it is so peaceful today, rather symbolic.

Out of all the invasion beach heads, the Canadians took their beachhead in only two hours with only 340 lost men in that two hours. But I'm sure some of which were injured, but with that hockey mentality battled on. They learnt from their mistakes from Dieppe in 1942. But that will be next weeks lesson kids.

I'm not sure when I have been more proud to be Canadian. When Sidney Crosby scored that game winning goal, or this very day. Along the beaches there are readings of what some of the soldiers went through that day. Un-fucking-believable day. Pardon my french. I will never forget this for the rest of my life.
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