70th Anniversary D-Day: Visiting Pointe du Hoc

 

Tomorrow is the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Normandy and the D-day invasion.

While in Paris last month, the Husband and I took the train to Normandy (think of Normandy as a state and we started our day in the town of Bayeux).  We were in Bayeux to meet our tour guide to see Pointe Du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery.

Growing up, Pop would often read aloud passages from books about the invasion.  When “Saving Private Ryan” was released, I remember discussing the opening scenes of the invasion with Pop.

He said, “You have to remember that those soldiers were just boys.  Imagine if [the Husband’s] entire pledge class was on one of those boats. And there were hundreds of boats.”

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I thought I understood the gravity of the day (the first step in defeating in what was referred to as Hitler’s Europe), the sacrifices that were made (9387 Americans are buried in the American Cemetery – 2000 from the first day of battle), and why it was important for me to remember and be grateful.

But until I stood on that beach, I am not quite sure I understood the magnitude of what occurred and what was achieved during those critical days.

We started in Bayeux.  A small town located about 15 miles from Omaha Beach.  Bayeux remained occupied by German forces until several days after the invasion, which to me was a strong reminder that while the beaches had been taken, the Battle of Normandy lasted well into August.

The tour began at Pointe du Hoc.  Three companies of the 2nd Rangers battalion were assigned to take Pointe du Hoc, west of Omaha Beach.  In order to take the Pointe, they had to scale this 100 ft cliff.

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Once they scaled the cliff, the Rangers were trapped on the area shown below on the Pointe for two days – the cliff at their back, the entrenched Germans in front.

190 Rangers scaled the cliff and only 90 were alive and capable of battle when reinforcements arrived at the Pointe on June 8.

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The Rangers faced this German observation deck, which included a rack room and was connected via tunnels to other structures housing communications and weapons.

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The terrain continues to bear the scars of those violent battles.  The craters in the earth are not part of the hilly terrain, but created from the bombs that were dropped from the sky and fired from the sea.

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Here is great image from Getty of how the Pointe looked once it was secured.

 

As we exited the area, we came across a beautiful memorial to those who had served and sacrificed at Pointe du Hoc.

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This was Sgt Walter Geldon of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.  The plaque reads:

“June 6, 1944, was Sergant Geldon’s third wedding anniversary.  He and his fellow Rangers sang songs to celebrate the occasion shortly before landing on Omaha Beach.  The 23 year-old steel worker from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was cut down by enemy fire within a few minutes of coming ashore.  When his widow died in 2002 at the age of 78, she was buried by his side.”

23 years old.  His 3rd wedding anniversary.

Thousands of others just like him performed the ultimate sacrifice to protect the ideals of the free world.

And for that, we should always remember – not just on June 6 – but everyday, because the wonderful freedoms afforded to us came at a cost that will never be fully measured.

 

I am planning on posting about our Omaha Beach tour tomorrow.  In the meantime, Tom Brokaw was on Omaha Beach this morning interviewing a D-day Veteran Frank Devita. His first hand account is amazing and of course, touching.

We will not have many of these Veterans with us in a few years and it is important to learn from them and say thank you while we have the opportunity.