I had an opportunity to visit Normandy once again during the first week of July. While it rained nearly every day, especially at Pointe-du-Hoc, I still appreciated the sights. Upon my first visit to the Normandy coast in 2004, I was much more in awe of the place and therefore did not take in the more subtle features. I have always loved the beautiful countryside. Now I can better understand how the lay of the land influenced the tactics and strategies utilized by both the attackers and defenders of this place. Some areas leant themselves to tank warfare and movement while others were dependent upon the infantry to protect or seize ground. The Norman hedgerows certainly provided an ideal defensive environment for the Germans. Still, the Allies were able to overcome the forces arrayed before them, eventually breaking out from the beach head and sweeping east toward Germany. Nearly a year passed with much more brutal fighting before Germany capitulated.
My concern is that what happened here and elsewhere in the Second World War is becoming less relevant to today’s youth. I am a huge advocate of historical travel. I have led tours to Europe since 2004. Few return from such a tour without a better appreciation of what happened there. Experience teaches me that the American Cemetery in Normandy has the greatest impact. There is a strong visual experience for those who visit.
Walking in the places of History helps one to feel more connected to that history. Simply reading about the invasion of the continent and breaching the Atlantic Wall will have a varied effect upon students. Seeing the beaches, feeling the sea spray, and leaving tracks in the wet sand or mud of a former battlefield reinforce what is read in a tangible way. It is my desire and plan to continue to take students on tours of sites such as Normandy. I do hope that in some way I can preserve the memory of those who fought there, striving to eliminate the grip of Fascism on the world.