Thoughts on Normandy by Pittsford-Mendon Student
Reflections on a Normandy Experience
—Kelly Warner, 2009 participant
Imagine standing in a twenty-foot deep crater at Pointe De Hoc. All you can see is the grassy knoll around you. The noise of hundreds of visitors fades away and the air becomes quiet. In the silent stillness, a small whisper tickles your ear. It’s the whisper of years past, of the soldiers hiding in freshly formed craters, wondering what’s above, if a friend or foe occupies the hole next to them, and desperate to complete their D-Day objective. For a small second of time, down in the crater, you hear their voices and thoughts. You see their vision on that day, and history becomes alive.
Normandy is filled with places where history is alive. This region of France was the landing site of the Allied forces, the first real offense against Hitler, and where so many gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy. The land proclaims their sacrifice. For a student, for a person interested in WWII history, for anyone at all, Normandy is an awe-striking place. There, you can wade in the English Channel, or in French, La Manche, you can visit the first small villages liberated by the Allies, and also personally honor those buried at Colleville Cemetery. These are such unique and life-changing opportunities in which I wish everyone could partake.
Normandy Allies Inc. is a non-profit organization offering students, teachers, and other interested individuals just that opportunity. Yet, they offer more than just sight seeing. This is an in-depth historical study of WWII and the Battle for Normandy. This July, I went on this once of a lifetime trip. There could be no better way to visit Normandy. The team is so organized and makes sure you go to good locations. We traveled with an historian who gave us overviews and details on different engagements. The trip is offered every year.
On many of the trips, WWII veterans come. I was so excited to go with three vets. Visiting these historic WWII sites with men who actually fought there is such a rare opportunity. I loved being able to hear their stories. I remember looking over Omaha Beach listening to Vince Rowell recall coming in on the second wave during D-Day, and hearing Robert Henne explain how he got two-thirds up the bluff marking mines before realizing he was all alone and had to go back down to encourage his men to follow him. We also visited one of the first Allied airstrips, in open Normandy fields, where one of group, Archer Martin, was evacuated sixty five years ago. Sadly, the number of WWII vets is dwindling. Soon, there will be none left of the men who fought. I encourage you seize the opportunity to experience Normandy with WWII Veterans. There is not much time left.
There is a whole other dimension to the trip. Yes, you see the actual sights. Yes, you may be there with Veterans, but you also meet many French citizens who lived through the landings. I was amazed at how welcoming the people of Normandy were. They overwhelmed us with hospitality and treated our veterans as heroes. It was interesting to hear their stories about the War. One example is Jacques Vico, who fought in the French resistance during German occupation and then joined the Allied Army fighting all through France and into Germany. Then there are those who were not there, yet they keep the memory of WWII alive. I was touched at how well they remembered. Additionally, Normandy Allies gives each student an opportunity to spend three nights with a host family. Throughout the two weeks, you make connections with people you’ll never forget.
The Normandy Allies’ experience is too broad to encompass in one little article, and its greatness and fun too great to express succinctly. I can truthfully say this was one of the best experiences of my life. If you have the littlest inkling of a desire, go. You will not regret it.
Kelly received a Travel Grant given in honor of LTC Jack Wilson, who traveled with Normandy Allies in 2000. Kelly wrote this article to share with her classmates at Pittsford-Mendon High School in Pittsford NY.