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Omaha and Pointe du Hoc

Monument at Omaha Beach honoring the 1st Infantry Division. 

I’ve been to Omaha Beach before. Twice, actually. I thought I understood it then. I didn’t. I’m beginning to understand it now.

One of the great benefits of spending as much time in Nomandy as we have is that the vastness of Omaha Beach now makes sense. It stretches from Point du Hoc (I think) in the west to Arromanches in the east. That’s a long, long beach. As a group, we stopped at three different points along it, four if one considers Point du Hoc to be part of it. None of these four reminded me at all of what I walked along in 1997 or 2002. Of course the dramatic tides may have altered my understanding of the land. The tide was high, for instance, on our final trip to Omaha this time, and that can make a big difference. At low tide, there’s 400 meters between shingle and water, at high tide, only 100.

In fact, the whole series of beaches involved in Overlord stretch out along the Normandy coast further than I realized. We visited Utah but didn’t get anywhere near Juno, Gold, and Sword. The five beaches are so spread out that an immediate challenge was uniting the five beachheads.
I know that I don't have a scale included in this shot from Google maps, but I urge you to take a look at how many village towns appear in this image. 

The Allies needed the room, though. On day one, they were landing five infantry divisions. That’s about 100,000 men. Plus the necessary support personnel. Equipment. Armor. And then there was a lot more to come on D+1, D+2, and so on.

Looking west along Omaha beach.

The bunker you see became the site of some great student photos. 

Looking west toward Pointe du Hoc.

Our first stop was along the western edge of the beach. We had the chance to see what a draw, one of the five depressions in the land that resemble passes and which served as exits off the beach for troops, looked like. Students and teachers had the chance to explore a former German strongpoint, situated along the steep slope, and that invited students to climb the steep hill, too grassy to call a cliff. Students also had a chance to walk along the beach as the tide came in.

Our second stop was fairly brief but it was where Lauren delivered her briefing. Each student had one briefing to deliver. They were assigned topics that aligned with their soldier’s experience. Lauren’s task involved talking about Omaha beach and why it proved to be so treacherous. Other students’ briefings covered topics such as chaplains in war time, notifying families of soldiers’ deaths, the preparatory air campaign, operation Cobra (an attempt to seal off German forces near the end of the campaign), and writing home. That presentation on writing home was particularly interesting as a student had to explain what V-mail was (a means of transferring soldiers’ letters to and then from microfilm so they could more efficiently get the letters home). Hmmm. Explaining microfilm to 21st-century students. A little bit of a moment that made me feel old.

One thing worth noting at this stop. Lauren gave her presentation before a memorial whose style we see a lot in Normandy. It appears as if these were monuments erected as part of a public works project by the French government, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s. They’re stark. Made from sandstone, they rise about four or five meters from the ground. A small statement is made on the front end, first in French, then in English. There’s some sort of bold font they use that reminds me of something one would see in the old East. Lauren and I debated the merits of these memorials throughout the trip. They grew on me. Lauren . . . well, they had the opposite effect on her.  

Monument at Pegasus Bridge.

Monument at Ste. Mere Eglese.

First Infantry Division at Omaha Beach. 
A third trip to Omaha included Pointe du Hoc, which is sat to the west of Omaha Beach. It was a location that Army Rangers infamously scaled to get to suspected German gun positions. After climbing the cliff face in the face of murderous enemy fire, the Rangers learned the guns had been moved a kilometer inland. There is a lot of evidence of the horrific combat that occurred there: smashed German fortifications and craters. 

One of many craters. 

Inside a fortified post. 

What the Rangers scaled. 

Another crater from the naval or aerial bombardment. 

Where a gun had been placed. 

Smashed position. 

Outside a gun port. 

A relatively intact fortification. 

As for the fourth trip to Omaha, well, that would be one beach further. 


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