Last spotted in San Francisco, USA on March 28, 2003, 1:23 pm
Who is he? Where is he going? Where has he been? David Barrett / Quinthar
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Now, I'm not entirely sure what I expected of the infamous Omaha Beach, but it sure wasn't a bunch of suntanning French. I mean, I guess it makes sense that Normandy would return to being the wonderful vacation spot that it was before the war, but somehow it just didn't click until I was there.

Also, while there I learned a bit about the invasion overall. Everyone knows that the casulties taken at Omaha Beach, as commerated in Saving Private Ryan, were horrific. However, I didn't realize that at the other landing sites (there were many), casulties and resistance were actually rather light. That, and I didn't realize that the Normandy beach overall was lightly fortified: precisely why the Allies decided to land there.

One interesting story I heard -- World War II is absolutely full of them -- is how we deceptively built a fake staging area to give the impression we'd land much farther north, where the French and English shores are closest. This tricked the Germans to heavily fortifying that area and leaving the Normandy coast relatively exposed. When the actual landing took place far south, the Germans thought it was a ruse and still expected it to be launched from the fake staging area -- a mistake that wasted crucial minutes in the initial defense and ultimately cost them the coast.

Anyway, the fortified segment of the hill is actually seen in the upper-left corner of the photo.

East of Omaha beach by a half-hour drive is a harbor, constructed after the D-Day invasion by sinking a series of damaged ships and huge concrete boats in a makeshift breakwall. Once in place, massive shipments of supplies were unloaded on the coast to support the effort to route the Nazis and ultimately rid the earth of one of history's greatest evils and to form, in the process, a timeless alliance of nations to protect the world for all time. Ok, perhaps that last part is a bit overdone, but the harbor bit is true, and is described in better detail here.
It is rather sobering to walk amongst the ruins of the German fortifications. Though very little remains, and they're really wasn't a whole lot there to begin with (it doesn't take much to hold off an invading force when dug in), it's easy to see how it all fit together. The big guns, the little guns, the jagged trenches, the offset walls to protect the entrances -- everything has such a clear purpose and brutal efficiency. I couldn't help wondering if we'd have defended our shores in the exact same way, with the same configurations, the same technologies, had we been threatened in the same way. The science of killing takes no sides.

In both gunposts through which I crawled I found a curious pattern: one corner of the interior was eroded, or worn, or damaged more than the rest. Most of the interior was remarkably well preserved -- fifty years of weather having shown virutally no sign. However, in one corner, shards of rusting steel rebar snaked out of the concrete in a twisted mass, th... [more]
"Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known only to God."

The many, many headstones in the cemetry, though placed with absolute precision, are as best as we could tell completely unordered. They are not grouped according to rank, division, date of birth, death, location, anything.
Overlooking the now-peaceful beach stands the American Cemetry. It defines serene.

Copyright 2021 - David Barrett -