My Trip to Normandy & A Lesson for All

May 24, 2014

Sen. Guglielmo at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.

When I was a young boy in grade school I had to write a paper for history class. I chose to focus on the Normandy invasion. Why? I was interested in the era surrounding World War II. My aunts were dress makers and during wartime their factory bosses were asked to help out the military by making uniforms and blankets for the soldiers instead.

I had seen many photos of relatives who served in the war and marveled at what that must have been like. I began to study and read up on this point in history and became fascinated.

That was then and this is now. More than half a century later, I was able to travel abroad with my wife of fifty years and two other couples to tour the very beaches of Normandy I had read about in books and glanced at in pictures. For me this was a personal vacation – the trip of a lifetime.

For those who may not have read up on this time in history the Normandy invasion began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks and naval bombardments. Once the sun rose, soldiers made amphibious landings on five beaches that had codenames: Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah, and Sword. Later that evening, the remaining parachute divisions landed.

D-Day, the more common name for the date of the initial assaults, was Tuesday 6 June 1944. Allied land forces that also fought in Normandy came from Canada, the Free French Forces, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

According to historical accountings of the invasion, only ten days each month were suitable for launching the operation: a day near the full Moon was needed both for illumination during the hours of darkness and for the spring tide, the former to illuminate navigational landmarks for the crews of aircraft, gliders and landing craft, and the latter to expose defensive obstacles placed by the German forces in the surf on the seaward approaches to the beaches. [1.]

The invasions were costly in terms of lives lost, but the defeat inflicted on the Germans was one of the largest of the war. Strategically, the battle led to the securing of a new major front for the Allies.

While on our trip we toured the very beaches soldiers lost their lives on. It was moving to say the least.

Our tour guide, Retired Major General Graham Holland was a soldier in the British Forces. He served 25 years and was stationed all over Europe and took a special interest in Normandy. He had all the maps of the pre-invasion planning. These were the very maps Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower viewed weeks before the invasion. I was impressed at how much intelligence there was before the invasion took place – even back then so many decades before satellites and technology.

There were also more than a dozen huge cemeteries in the area. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains row upon row of identical white crosses and Stars of David, immaculately kept, commemorating the more than 9,000 Americans who died. This site made all of us pause – how powerful it was. Yet sadly many more troops would perish in the 77 day battle after the invasion.

One of the last reflections I made was in front of the bridge where the first deaths of the Normandy invasion occurred. All I could envision were the gliders who landed only to never get up again.

As we head into this Memorial Day weekend and remember National Military Appreciation Month – it is important to note – we owe these courageous men who fought for our country and died in Normandy and in all wars a debt of graditude.

The Liberties we enjoy every day are only made possible because men and women of the military are courageous enough to put their lives on the line for freedom. The homework I turned in more than 50 years ago could have never prepared me for what I saw and experienced on this trip, but it was a lesson I will never forget.