School has gotten progressively more intense, but luckily this weekend we had a bit of a break with a study trip to Normandy, a region in the northwest of France on the Atlantic Ocean. Though Normandy is most famous for the D-Day invasions in World War II, the region represents the French agricultural center. To the disappointment of my waistline, Normandy is also notorious for the best tasting crepes (a type of French pancake that can be filled with sweets or meat).
The landscape of Normandy is rather odd. There are cornfields directly across from the beach. To me, corn next to the ocean just doesn’t make sense. It’s clear that Normandy is an agricultural region because vast farms and countryside surround all of the towns. It was rather picturesque, but I can never see myself being in Normandy for more than a weekend without going insane!
The first town we visited in Normandy was Le Havre. During World War II, Le Havre was completely razed by British “intimidation bombings” so the city is rather modern, with square, uniform buildings. It’s amazing to think that an entire city was damaged so much during the war that it had to be completely rebuilt.
On Saturday we visited several memorials dedicated to World War II including the Caen War Memorial, the American War Cemetery, and the beaches of Normandy. The Caen War Memorial is more of a museum rather than a memorial. I really liked the symbolic architecture of the building that is split into two halves with a black “slash” in the middle to represent the “scar” that World War II left on France. The Memorial features some intimidating Nazi memorabilia and traces the events leading up to World War II.
In the afternoon we headed to the Normandy beaches. Nestled on the top of a cliff of “Omaha” beach is the American War Cemetery. There are over 9,000 American men buried here from World War II. It was overwhelming to see the thousands of white cement crosses lined in rows for what seemed like miles. It sounds corny, but seeing the graveyard gave me a tremendous sense of pride for the United State. I realized what a huge sacrifice these men made, not only for our country, but also for our allies and the “greater good” of humanity. I was astonished of how many men died on that first day, June 6, 1944, (it was literally every other grave marker).
The D-Day beaches themselves don’t look much different than normal beaches at first glance, but then you look behind at the cliffs and you can see the cut outs from bombs exploding and in the distance you can see remnants of German bunkers that once contained huge cannons. The beach is now considered hallow ground in a way, but life still goes on, with people building sandcastles and frolicking on it. It was a bit odd to see that, but it also represents how the world has moved on somewhat from the physical devastation of World War II.
I’ve always wanted to see the Normandy beaches, especially considering my Grandfather fought in World War II. I was very proud of him and all the other soldiers who had to scale the cliffs of Normandy while enduring a shower of bullets in order to help the French fight off the Nazis. Though Normandy wasn’t the most exciting place I’ve ever been, I’m really glad that SMU brought us here. It finally made World War II come alive and helped me really understand the devastation, both physical and emotional, that was caused by the war.