We visited Normandy this week and, like nearly everyone else who goes there, I left with a clearer view of its history, not just as an event, but also of Normandy’s history that changed the course of world history. Normandy’s historic D-Day beaches of World War II lie on the northwest coast of France, a short distance from the south shores of England.
My lifelong limited view of Normandy is colored by when I was born, near the end of the war. But my view was and is also limited by my family being unscathed directly by the casualty and death counts of those who led the allied charge against Hitler there.
As we approached Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, bound southwest along the coast highway, we came to the town of Arromanches that lies near the heart of the US invasion. From that town eastward, Canadian forces led the invasion at Juno Beach. We took a photo of a restaurant in Arromanches bearing the name of the date of the D-Day invasion that turned the tide of the war—6 June, 1944. British, Canadian, US, and French flags flew along the beach a block over from that restaurant.
The US cemetery came next on our trip westward along that part of the coast. From an observation point above Omaha Beach, we could see the site of the US landing. A few yards behind us, the somber but inspiring cemetery for over 9,000 fallen US soldiers began.
As we walked into the cemetery, I was struck by the number of Star of David headstones marking the graves of Jewish soldiers among the other markers of white crosses. Something about the Jewish graves grabbed my attention in an unexpected way.
I wondered such things as:
- Did Hitler’s unspeakable savagery toward the Jewish people motivate the Jewish soldiers in a way that was unknown to the other US soldiers involved in the landing?
- Of the nearly 12 percent of US forces made up of Jewish soldiers, did their participation in D-Day most pointedly symbolize the harsh justice that was coming to Hitler and his devoted followers?
- Did the Jewish soldiers die with a greater fervor for justice than the other soldiers whose very being was not as directly assaulted by Hitler?
- Why did these thoughts make me feel especially close to those graves marked by the Star of David?
The answer to the first three questions is fairly clearly “Yes” based on my later reading of D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose. I’m sure I will look into these questions in greater depth in the years ahead. The sight of those Star of David grave markers has given me a completely unexpected line of inquiry from my brief visit to Normandy.
Those questions are not going away anytime soon. For that I’m deeply grateful.
The world is indebted to all those thousands of soldiers from Great Britain, Canada, United States, and France who are buried along Normandy’s shores. We remember. We won’t forget.
Recouping in France, June 28, 2013 (1 in a series of 4)
Painter and Her Magic, July 5, 2013 (2 in a series of 4)
France — The Marais, Heart of Paris, July 19, 2013 (4 in a series of 4)