by T. J. Silva
Today was a jam-packed day. We started out by waking up at the normal time and meeting at 9 o’clock to take the bus. Our first stop outside of Caen was at Arromanches. At this place, our history teacher, Pierrette, taught us about how the English built an artificial port used for provisioning the Allies at the time of the invasion. There were remains of the port wall in the sea and we were able to see these at this stop.
We then proceeded to take a bus ride to a place where there were remains of German bunkers from World War II. Here, we were able to enter these bunkers and see what it was like to be behind the guns and cannons. The bunkers were small spaces but efficient enough so that the Germans could see and hit targets coming in from the sea. Some kids even managed to jump onto the roofs of these bunkers, but James decided to try an alternate route through the barbed wire (which did not work).
Next was a trip to a beach where there were remains of what seemed like ships and big metal objects. It was fascinating to see these enormous things washed up and rusty on the beach and to think that one day these things were used as transportation and weapons was very interesting.
Then it was lunch time. We went to a nice little town (Port-en-Bessin) right on the water where we could see lots of fishermen and fishing boats that came in and out of the port. Some kids went into the city to eat, while a group of us found a nice pier to sit and eat our lunch. This was truly a beautiful spot as we could see both the high and ominous cliffs and the beautiful water. There was even a coming sense to this place provided by the constant sound of the waves hitting the cliffs. I know at least for me this was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in France (and the food wasn’t even that good).
After lunch we proceeded to the main part of our trip which was the United States Memorial for those who had lost their lives fighting in the war. This place was really beautiful as even the landscaping was terrific. We started by entering a museum which was actually really interesting. The museum gave us lots of background on the war and especially D-Day. There were a lot of cool things in this museum, but one thing that stood out to me was the amount of preparation that went into D-Day. Every little thing from the tides to the moon cycle had to be factored in as nothing could have been left to chance. Also, there was the fact that if D-Day had not worked for whatever reason, the world would be completely different today, but that is why the men gave their lives.
Then a group of us went down to Omaha Beach. The beach was really pretty. The sand felt really good between your toes, and the water was cold but really nice. But that wasn’t what made this beach special. On this beach, the Allies brought their troops and invaded the German occupied territory on D-Day. The fact that people had certainly died right where we were standing was horrifying. To think of your friends being shot left and right and the Germans firing bullets at you is terrifying and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have been there. But that is why these men were so courageous. They knew what they were getting into and they didn’t quit so that we could have what we have today. So, although it was terrible to think about what had happened on that beach, their courage still resonates today.
Finally we got to see the cemetery. This was no ordinary cemetery. There were over 9,000 Americans who were laid to rest there. We got to walk around and really appreciate what these men had done. Each man had a marble tombstone that was either a cross or a Star of David, depending on their religion. It was an unbelievable site, but as I mentioned earlier, it was because of these men that we have what we have today.
Next we got to see the Point du Hoc site. At this site, a group of men climbed up the cliff side to break through the German defenses and gain the allies some territory. But many men died in attempting to climb up or were just shot down once they made it up the cliff. However, thanks again to the leadership and bravery of a few men, they did eventually break through the defenses and lead the Allies to victory.
As we reached the bus to leave this site, Pierrette had us wait outside the bus for a minute. She proceeded to teach us a little Norman folk dance which I had not seen before. Everyone tried it out and it seemed pretty stupid to me until the song was over and everyone started singing "Joyeux Anniversaire" or "Happy Birthday" in English. I was completely caught off guard as I had no idea this was going to happen. It was my birthday and they had all surprised me with a little cake and some goodies to eat. Then Ryan came forward with a gift saying it was from the whole class. At first, it seemed like just a regular shirt, a souvenir from Normandy, but on the back side there was a lot of writing from the class. Although the shirt was really funny (and pretty inappropriate), there were lots of really nice notes on it from all my classmates and teachers who had signed it. This was an extremely kind gesture which my classmates cared enough to do for me and I couldn’t have been more thankful. I will remember that shirt forever.
The day was not over though. Our last stop was to see the German Memorial for their troops who had fallen, and theirs was a lot different than ours. It was very bland as it just had tombstones on the ground with two names on every one.
When we finally returned back to Caen, a group of kids took me out to dinner for my birthday. The meal was pretty good, but the fact that I was with all my friends sharing some laughs made it even more memorable. I had a great birthday, and it will go down as one of the best I’ve ever had.