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To Stand upon Hallowed Ground

Sixty-eight years ago this morning, young and not so young men from across the free world splashed ashore or descended from the sky in the final assault on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.”  It was their blood, and that of the millions of Soviet citizens fighting and dying in the east, that rescued the world from Nazi tyranny.

You can still find the occasional World War II vets at the Normandy beaches, but those days will soon come to an end. A suggestion to anybody trying to make plans for a European vacation this summer: visit the Normandy battlefields, then go on to Bayeux where, among other things, you can see the Bayeux Tapestry that William the Conqueror’s wife and family put together in one of the world’s first examples of scrap booking. Normandy is a lovely part of France — where many Parisians (including Marcel Proust) used to go for their summer vacations before the advent of air travel. It also remains one of the more pro-British and pro-American corners of the Hexagon.

From Normandy, it’s a very short trip south to see Mont St. Michel — you can then swing east to Chartres Cathedral. Bring your Henry Adams along for a reflective, rich experience.

Another option: head north along the coast to Dunkirk (where 4 years almost to the day before Normandy the last British and French troops were scrambling for the last boats), and inland across the World War One battlefields to the town of Compiègne. There you can see the railroad car in which the Germans signed the armistice ending World War One — and where Hitler made the French sign their surrender in 1940. It’s also where the British arrested Joan of Arc, and has the chateau where the French kings used to hunt and where Napoleon I and III used to hang out.

Waterloo is just a short drive away, as are many of the battlefields from the wars of Louis XIV.

Take the kids if they are old enough to understand what they are looking at. Understanding how the freedom and prosperity we take for granted today were achieved will help them think more clearly and grow up strong and wise.

But whether you go to Normandy or not, remembering those brave people who stormed the beaches under withering gunfire, their friends and comrades falling around them, is something we should all do on this hallowed day.

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  • Anthony

    In helping a very dear friend yesterday, he asid “I survived the invasion of Normandy and the Germans only to fall on my ***” He survived that too (at 88 years strong).

  • John Burke

    Nothing hammers home the sacrifice of the invaders more than visiting the American cemetery overlooking Omaha beach which contains the remains of 9387 Americans killed in the Nornandy campaign.

  • Warwick

    The Brits arrested Joan of Arc?

    I thought the Burgundians captured her and sold her to the English for ransom.

    And while I’m not an expert on these things, the term British in that context may be an anachronism.

    But whatever errors there may be, I’m sure they’re ironic examples of forgetfulness meant to add a light note of humor to a post on the seriousness of remembering.

  • Corlyss

    “It also remains one of the more pro-British and pro-American corners of the Hexagon.”

    Proximity to Celtic Brittany?

  • Tom Richards

    I don’t suppose any of those involved would have described themselves as “British” – hardly anyone did until quite recently – but the Glyndwr Rising ended right around the time of Joan’s birth, so Wales and England were definitively and (so far) permanently united by that point. I think a reasonable case could be made for “British”, from our current perspective.

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