A Bit of America in France

As some of you may know, a couple weeks ago, I was in France, “touring” with my daughter, who’s part of the Kettering Childrens Choir.

In some ways, the trip was disappointing, as the kids’ performance and rehearsal schedule prevented us from doing many of the things one goes to France for. We didn’t have time to see the Louvre, and while some went to Versailles, they only got to spend a couple hours there. I’d been to France before, with a group in high school, so I’d seen the big attractions.

However, we did see some that I did not see when I was there before. One of those was Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery.

They did not disappoint. The travel agent told us beforehand that many of us would find it a moving experience, and she was right.

We went to Omaha Beach first, and the sight of the memorial statue where the Allied forces first landed to retake Europe from the Nazis in 1944 was breathtaking. There was something about those giant, curved wedges rising from the sand in a stark, otherwise empty beach that struck me like a punch in the gut. Although it was late June, the beach was windy as hell (probably 50mph gusts), overcast, and chilly – probably under 60 degrees. Our tour group was set up to have a picnic lunch there, but it’s hard to eat when sand’s blowing in your food and eyes. I can’t imagine what the Allied soldiers went through when they landed there, battling not only weather much worse than what we experienced, but also the threat of the Germans.

Afterward, we went to the cemetery. The size of it is staggering, and really made it hit home when we learned that almost 10,000 soldiers are buried there, plus a few support staff – including four women. Then, considering that only a fraction of the dead were buried there – many families elected to have their loved ones’ bodies sent home – and that this was only the Americans, the immense sacrifice was even more mind-boggling.

But what struck me the most was this: The French have not forgotten U.S., U.K., Canada, and other Allied forces did for Europe almost 70 years ago. After the war was over, they worked with the U.S. military to return the bodies of the Americans whose families requested it; and for those whose families decided it was more fitting that their remains stay where they’d fallen, they built the American Cemetery. Other Allied solders were buried in commonwealth cemeteries throughout the area, the answer to a very good question my daughter asked. But the French understood the importance our culture places on honoring our military, and made a special place to honor them. Today, it’s as immaculately maintained as any VA cemetery on U.S. soil, and attracts millions of visitors every year.

After our tour of the grounds, the choir performed in front of the Garden of the Missing (about 1500 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered). It was touching to see the crowds that gathered to watch them, especially the WWII vet who had tears in his eyes by the time the kids finished.

 

We may not have had the chance to go up in the Eiffel Tower, or see the Mona Lisa. But that windy day in Normandy, I think we saw something even more important and worthwhile. If you ever have the chance to visit northern France, I highly recommend the American Cemetery and museum.

Have you been to Omaha Beach or the American Cemetery in France, or something similar elsewhere? Whatever your nationality, what did you think? Oh, and happy belated Fourth of July!

Here’s a two-minute video about the Cemetery, if you’re interested:

15 Responses to \

  1. Hi Jennette!
    I got to go to Paris for a day–which meant running around to squeeze in a look at the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, etc. But I would really love to go back to see Normandy (and Versailles!). I know a bit of the history, but I guess it’s easy to not comprehend the numbers that died there–I didn’t know it was that many. I imagine with the choir singing it was very moving.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. my daughter toured Europe as part of her class trip when she was in Gr 11. Next to Jimi Hendrix’s grave (????) this was the highlight of her trip. she was so moved by the cemetaries and the care and attention paid to all of them.

  3. Coleen – I was fortunate enough to visit the Louvre when I went in high school – very worthwhile, even if you only see a little bit of it! Thanks for stopping by.

    Louise, that was what I noticed, too! It really drove home how part of a global community we are. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have not been to Omaha Beach or to the American Cemetery in France, but I will go one day. Thank you for this post and the video. What did your daughter and the rest of the Ketterling Children’s Chior sing in front of the Garden of the Missing?

  5. Great article, Jennette. It’s hard to go around much of Europe without encountering memorials to both wars. Part of the reason, as you say, is the staggering numbers. In WW1, the first battle of the Marne lasted 7 days and left 80,000 dead. Such numbers leave a lasting memory and it is fitting and gratify that nations maintain these cemeteries as both a tribute and a reminder. It’s not surprising the vet had tears in his eyes when your daughter and her friends sang, they’re who he fought for.

    Nigel

  6. Pat, glad you liked it! The choir sang our national anthem, America the Beautiful, Amazing Grace, and a few others.

    Thanks, Nigel! My knowledge about WWI is just the basics, so I wasn’t familiar with this bit of history – thanks for sharing! And you’re right – we’re all who he fought for.

  7. Fascinating. My hubby and son just watched SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and that opening scene is quite the reminder of what soldiers went through. I’m sure that experience of being in Normandy will stay with those choir kids for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing it, Jennette.

  8. I’ve never been to France, but visiting Omaha Beach would touch me immensely. Just watching movies about it is gripping. Such a huge sacrifice the Allied Forces made. It’s hard to fathom the hell they experienced. When I visited the memorial at Pearl Harbor, I was deeply touched. It’s an experience that’s hard to put into words. I’m glad to hear that the French still honor our fallen heroes.

  9. That was a very powerful video and a very moving post. It is so easy to forget history if we don’t make mindful efforts to remember. Thank you for taking the time to visit and make this post. I, for one, appreciate it.

    I experienced the same type of emotions when I visited the Civil War memorials a few years back. It’s mind boggling that so many lives were lost right her on our home soil. Good people on both sides of the cause sacrificed so much to get us where we are today.

    God bless the military and the military minded!!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  10. Thanks, Julie! I’m sure they’ll remember it – I know I will!

    Lynn, You’re right, I can’t even imagine what it must’ve been like – we have so much to be grateful for, for their sacrifice.

    Patricia, thanks, and I totally agree – it’s hard to fathom what went on right here, 150 years ago.

    Sheila, it’s very worth seeing – thanks for stopping by!

    Rhonda, thank you!

  11. Omaha Beach and the American Cemetary sound like impressive places. The numbers of the dead in WW1 are staggering. Singing at the Garden of Missing is likely an experience the kids will never forget.

  12. I’ve never been outside the continental USA and probably will never get to go, but I understand the “punch in the gut” reaction you experienced. I/we had it when visiting the Vietnam Memorial. Everyone stops talking as they approach that black slash of stone rising from the ground. It was like that at the WWII memorial too. Silence or hushed voices as we remembered those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms. I pray we never forget that and that we can pass that on to our children so they will remember long after those who served are gone. If we don’t remember our history we will repeat it.

  13. Reetta – you are so right!

    CD – I visited the Vietnam wall a few years ago, and you’re right, it is a sobering experience. So true about the important purpose these memorials serve.