Near the end of our France tour, we spent an entire day visiting various D-Day locations and beaches. We had a wonderful British ex-military guide that brought June 6, 1944 into vivid detail, and yet managed to focus on the positive and keep most of the day light.
Our first stop was the small town of Angoville au Plain outside Bayeux. We went into a tiny church and all sat down on the benches. There our guide Dale, told us the story of two paratrooper medics that made the very church we were sitting in a First Aid post. He recounted the tale of incredible bravery and valor under the most stressful and horrific conditions imaginable.
As we were sitting in the church, it was very easy for us to imagine the scene, but there were elements we could not visualize. The smell of sweat, blood, vomit and other such scents. The unmistakable defining sounds of gun fire, bombs and explosives of every kind going non-stop all around them. The stained glass windows of the church had been blown out. The ground would shake and the sounds of the wounded men added to the visceral surroundings.
At one point in their three days of hell, a huge artillery shell smashed through the roof and fell onto the floor of the church, cracking a floor tile (still there). One of the medics quickly grabbed the round and threw it out the nearest window.
They also had a run in with a very irate German officer who burst through the doors of the church cursing madly and carrying two of his wounded comrades on his back. The officer stopped dead in his tracks and fell silent upon sight of the two medics caring for not only wounded allied troops but hurt Germans as well. The German officer was said to have enthusiastically thanked the two medics over and over.
Several of the benches we were sitting on were stained with the still visible blood. Of the 83 soldiers cared for in that church, they only lost three.
Very close to Omaha beach is Pointe du Hoc. There, several of the thick concrete German bunkers are still in place. As the Americans were making their way up the steep cliffs from the water, a few reached a huge artillery bunker. They asked their superior officer what they should do with it and he said to blow it up. Throwing in a large explosive, they ran for cover behind a neighboring bunker. We were standing on the edge of the enormous crater created by the blast and all around us were several ton pieces of the massive concrete roof that blew off just before the walls of the bunker caved in.
Omaha Beach is well known for the mass carnage that caused the waters and sand to run vivid red. After Dale gave us the staggering statistics and mapped out the unfathomable odds, we had a few minutes of free time. I had decided that I would pay my respects by sitting on the retaining wall, looking out to sea and listen to music. I had chosen several pieces that I felt would be appropriate. In the end because we were limited for time we were only able to listen for a few minutes. I asked Michael if he wanted to join me. I also asked him if he wanted the musical theme to be hard or soft. He said soft, and so we sat on the retaining wall of Omaha Beach looking out to the water listening to the emotional and moving melody of Bach’s Passacaglia. As the tears streamed down my face, I remembered, I honored, I paid respect and I gave thanks.