Remembering Normandy

 

It is commonly held by many Americans that French people are rude and that they particularly dislike Americans. I have traveled to various regions of France on five or six occasions, and have always found the French to be warm, welcoming, and helpful. Others’ experiences may differ, and apparently do.

Regardless, if there is one region in France where the people most decidedly do not dislike Americans, it is Normandy. And that is because they, more than anyone else, remember with profound gratitude the events that started in the early morning hours 78 years ago Monday. Events that killed many of their ancestors and neighbors and laid waste to their land, but which ultimately led to the liberation and restoration of France as a free independent nation.

On the eve of the anniversary of D-Day, I want to commemorate the special relationship that exists between America and the people of Normandy, France. (I do understand and deeply admire the contributions made on D-Day by the British, Canadian, and other nations within the Allied forces, but this is written from an American perspective.)

Sainte-Mère-Église is a small town in Normandy that sits on a peninsula that juts northward into the English Channel. It was the first French town liberated by the Allies on June 6, 1944, as they came off the landing beaches a short distance to the east.

American Paratroopers were dropped in and around the town in the darkness a few hours before the landings started. Quite a few of them got hung up in trees and on buildings, and many of those who did were shot dead as sitting ducks by the occupying forces of the enemy.

One paratrooper was famously caught on the tower of the village church, where he played dead for several hours to avoid being shot. He survived to be rescued by the Allies when they took the town. The scene was depicted in The Longest Day, in 1962, and the town commemorates the event with a dummy paratrooper hanging off the tower.

As you can see, the church is an older style with thick load-bearing walls and fairly small windows. I guess it would be called Norman style. Definitely not in the soaring Gothic style.

Inside, it’s fairly dark and simple. Nothing much special, except for two stained glass windows, which are unique and, I think, very special.

This is a reminder that there are places in Europe where Americans are remembered for the best of our history, and this is one…

Caption:
“This stained glass was executed with the help of Paul Renaud of Ste. Mère
To the memory of those who through their courage and their sacrifice
Liberated St Mere Eglise and France.”

Captions, from left to right:
“To the memory of those who through their sacrifice liberated St Mere Eglise.”
“They have come back.”
“25th Anniversary of the Veterans of the 505th 82nd Airborne Division.”

Lest we forget the sacrifice they refer to, the American Military Cemetery, which sits on high ground with sweeping views of the landing beaches, reminds us with manicured grounds, meticulously maintained.

“Man hath no greater love than this: That he lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:13

May the friendship between the people of Normandy and the people of America, forged in that greatest show of love, endure forever.

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  1. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    kjl23: Regardless, if there is one region in France where the people most decidedly DO NOT dislike Americans it is Normandy.

    Very true. In 2011, we toured the Cemetery at Normandy.  The tour guide was excellent and she showed over and over by her words and attitude that the Normandy French are still very grateful.

    • #1
  2. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    France was brilliant to convince so many people that they were on our side during the war.

    • #2
  3. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    As much as I respect and admire our glorious invasion to liberate France, and I loved The Longest Day – saw it several times, it seems an era long passed and has very little to do with our country today. Yes, it was heroic, and a hard-fought bitter victory. My father was a POW in Japan at this juncture. That we beat those bastards,  who may have been even worse than the Germans at that time was great.

    But I have a hard time looking at the world through this antiquated lens. We can still pray for our dead heroes and honor them, but we, sadly, are not the same ‘people’ or the same country.

    Let’s understand that as well.

    In honor of your Francophilia, I’ll post this Breton folk song which I’ve come to appreciate. They absolutely deserved to be liberated.

    • #3
  4. kjl23 Member
    kjl23
    @kjl23

    Skyler (View Comment):

    France was brilliant to convince so many people that they were on our side during the war.

    Wow!  Most were. Some were not. Obviously there was Vichy, and the invasion of North Africa required us to fire on French forces, which was a horrible tragedy.  

    It’s impossible to understand the French outlook on the war without acknowledging how broken they were after the War to End All Wars.  

    Do you think De Gaulle wanted Germany to win?

    But what I am writing about is the now.  The Normans of today  appreciate what we did, with full hindsight and nearly 80 years on. That’s worth recognizing and appreciating.

    • #4
  5. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    My Dad landed on Omaha Beach, but he made it back or I and five of my siblings wouldn’t be here.

    God bless our fighters. They weren’t just fighting for France. They fought for all of us against great evil.

    • #5
  6. kjl23 Member
    kjl23
    @kjl23

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    My Dad landed on Omaha Beach, but he made it back or I and five of my siblings wouldn’t be here.

    God bless our fighters. They weren’t just fighting for France. They fought for all of us against great evil.

    Absolutely!

    • #6
  7. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    My Dad landed on Omaha Beach, but he made it back or I and five of my siblings wouldn’t be here.

    God bless our fighters. They weren’t just fighting for France. They fought for all of us against great evil.

    Oh dear sister . . . .  oh  . . .  oh my . . .  this picture . . . We owe so much .  Indeed:  God bless our fighters and all those in heaven with our wonderful father.   

    • #7
  8. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    My Dad landed on Omaha Beach, but he made it back or I and five of my siblings wouldn’t be here.

    My father and neutral observer’s father were Marines in the Pacific.  Her Dad was an aerial recon photographer at several landings including Guadalcanal.  Mine didn’t see combat, but was in training for the likely landing on and invasion of Japan.  We like to think we both wouldn’t have been born if it weren’t for nuclear weapons . . .

    • #8
  9. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Thank you for the post. You had me sniffling a bit.

    Dad was in the second wave that hit the beach. He lasted three days and was finally evacuated after taking a bullet to the knee. He and Mom went back to Normandy, and specifically the village of St. Lo, where Dad directed his group in the liberation of the town since his CO had been killed earlier, and in spite of the fact that he was wounded. I’ve always been glad that Mom and Dad were able to make that trip.

    • #9
  10. RyanFalcone Member
    RyanFalcone
    @RyanFalcone

    I was in France for a few weeks in the mid-90’s. Paris was full to the brim with the obnoxious types that many that dislike the French like to point to as typical. Yet, it seemed like folks elsewhere were just normal and very friendly. I will say that we traveled to Belgium to The Battle of The Bulge memorial there as my grandfather served there in the Army Airforce. Back then, if locals heard an American accent, they would come up to you and thank YOU for what those men did back then.

    • #10
  11. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    kjl23 (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    France was brilliant to convince so many people that they were on our side during the war.

    Wow! Most were. Some were not. Obviously there was Vichy, and the invasion of North Africa required us to fire on French forces, which was a horrible tragedy.

    It’s impossible to understand the French outlook on the war without acknowledging how broken they were after the War to End All Wars.

    Do you think De Gaulle wanted Germany to win?

    But what I am writing about is the now. The Normans of today appreciate what we did, with full hindsight and nearly 80 years on. That’s worth recognizing and appreciating.

    Is it because France was so broken by the events of 1914 to 1918 that we so rarely hear about how the War To End All Wars affected them?

    Sure,  the major battlefields are remembered. But there has really been no accounting for the pain and suffering that was slammed into the lives of normal everyday people in France, mostly rural people, whose lives were upended because of the assassination of an Austrian ArchDuke, by a Serbian anarchist.

     

    • #11
  12. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    kjl23 (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    France was brilliant to convince so many people that they were on our side during the war.

    Wow! Most were. Some were not. Obviously there was Vichy, and the invasion of North Africa required us to fire on French forces, which was a horrible tragedy.

    It’s impossible to understand the French outlook on the war without acknowledging how broken they were after the War to End All Wars.

    Do you think De Gaulle wanted Germany to win?

    But what I am writing about is the now. The Normans of today appreciate what we did, with full hindsight and nearly 80 years on. That’s worth recognizing and appreciating.

    Is it because France was so broken by the events of 1914 to 1918 that we so rarely hear about how the War To End All Wars affected them?

    Sure, the major battlefields are remembered. But there has really been no accounting for the pain and suffering that was slammed into the lives of normal everyday people in France, mostly rural people, whose lives were upended because of the assassination of an Austrian ArchDuke, by a Serbian anarchist.

     

    It wasn’t at all that simple.  France was in the throes of a marxist movement that had deeply polarized the nation, and were saved from Marxism by the interruption of WWI.  Spain took that same type of polarization and endured a bloody civil war.  We appear to be on that track now.

    When France was invaded in 1939, they didn’t fight very hard, and in fact their military was populated by a lot of senior officers that preferred to be Hitler supporters.  This perfidy was on display prominently at Mers el Kebir and in Operation Torch (the allied invasion of North Africa).  At Mers el Kebir, the Brits asked the French fleet to join them and fight for freedom from Germany.  They refused and had to be sunk.  And rightly so, though so many people still tut tut and complain that it was unnecessary to remove the fleet from Hitler’s control.  In Torch, when Eisenhower sent officers to convince the French to not take up arms to oppose the landing half the officers ended up fighting against us and of the remainder was a General who agreed to take command of all the Allies (I suppose like in WWI) and lead the US and the Brits.  We kept up a farce that the dissidents of France were allies, but throughout the war they were difficult to work with and very demanding of honors they didn’t deserve.

    • #12
  13. kjl23 Member
    kjl23
    @kjl23

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    kjl23 (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    France was brilliant to convince so many people that they were on our side during the war.

    Wow! Most were. Some were not. Obviously there was Vichy, and the invasion of North Africa required us to fire on French forces, which was a horrible tragedy.

    It’s impossible to understand the French outlook on the war without acknowledging how broken they were after the War to End All Wars.

    Do you think De Gaulle wanted Germany to win?

    But what I am writing about is the now. The Normans of today appreciate what we did, with full hindsight and nearly 80 years on. That’s worth recognizing and appreciating.

    Is it because France was so broken by the events of 1914 to 1918 that we so rarely hear about how the War To End All Wars affected them?

    Sure, the major battlefields are remembered. But there has really been no accounting for the pain and suffering that was slammed into the lives of normal everyday people in France, mostly rural people, whose lives were upended because of the assassination of an Austrian ArchDuke, by a Serbian anarchist.

     

    Yes. I don’t remember the exact numbers but a shocking proportion of the younger men in France was killed or severely wounded in the Great War. It shattered families and left a demographic hole that did not recover before WW2 began.  Imagine the US lost 10% of the military age male population just after 9/11, and today we were asked to sign up in the millions to fight Russia in Ukraine.  It was something like that.  And it was in large part the “best and brightest” who were lost.  The next generation of hereditary leaders was decimated, and the line of history and tradition, including Catholicism, was severed.  France was unmoored from its identity and has not yet recovered.  Maybe it never will.

    • #13
  14. kjl23 Member
    kjl23
    @kjl23

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    kjl23 (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    France was brilliant to convince so many people that they were on our side during the war.

    Wow! Most were. Some were not. Obviously there was Vichy, and the invasion of North Africa required us to fire on French forces, which was a horrible tragedy.

    It’s impossible to understand the French outlook on the war without acknowledging how broken they were after the War to End All Wars.

    Do you think De Gaulle wanted Germany to win?

    But what I am writing about is the now. The Normans of today appreciate what we did, with full hindsight and nearly 80 years on. That’s worth recognizing and appreciating.

    Is it because France was so broken by the events of 1914 to 1918 that we so rarely hear about how the War To End All Wars affected them?

    Sure, the major battlefields are remembered. But there has really been no accounting for the pain and suffering that was slammed into the lives of normal everyday people in France, mostly rural people, whose lives were upended because of the assassination of an Austrian ArchDuke, by a Serbian anarchist.

     

    It wasn’t at all that simple. France was in the throes of a marxist movement that had deeply polarized the nation, and were saved from Marxism by the interruption of WWI. Spain took that same type of polarization and endured a bloody civil war. We appear to be on that track now.

    When France was invaded in 1939, they didn’t fight very hard, and in fact their military was populated by a lot of senior officers that preferred to be Hitler supporters. This perfidy was on display prominently at Mers el Kebir and in Operation Torch (the allied invasion of North Africa). At Mers el Kebir, the Brits asked the French fleet to join them and fight for freedom from Germany. They refused and had to be sunk. And rightly so, though so many people still tut tut and complain that it was unnecessary to remove the fleet from Hitler’s control. In Torch, when Eisenhower sent officers to convince the French to not take up arms to oppose the landing half the officers ended up fighting against us and of the remainder was a General who agreed to take command of all the Allies (I suppose like in WWI) and lead the US and the Brits. We kept up a farce that the dissidents of France were allies, but throughout the war they were difficult to work with and very demanding of honors they didn’t deserve.

    I think it was 100% justified for the Allies to sink the French fleet when it was under enemy French leadership,  and yet it was still still tragic.  

    • #14
  15. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    kjl23 (View Comment):
    and yet it was still still tragic.

    All war is tragic, even when necessary.

    • #15
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