June 06, 2014

French Friday: 70 years later

I had hoped to begin my new French Friday series with some lovely French art, culture, or architecture, but it is impossible to ignore the significance of today's date for both French and American citizens. June 6, 2014 marks the seventieth anniversary of Operation Overlord -- D-Day. More than 150,000 Allied troops, about half of whom were Americans, stormed the beaches of Normandy in the largest seaborne invasion in history. General Eisenhower proclaimed, "The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory.... We will accept nothing less than full victory!" Indeed, these brave servicemen overwhelmed the German forces and D-Day proved to be a turning point in World War II. Today stairs and winding paths lead from Omaha Beach to the summit of the bluffs, scarred with bunkers even 70 years later. One can scarcely imagine charging up these cliffs, wet, cold, and frightened, facing enemy fire.

I have visited Omaha Beach, Arromanches, 
and the American Cemetery at Coville-sur-Mer three times,
first in June of 1994 when French and American citizens 
met to commemorate 50 years -- to give thanks, 
and to honor those who gave their lives 
for the precious freedom that we all enjoy. 

France has granted the United States 
perpetual concession to this land in Normandy 
The American flag flies proudly 
over hallowed ground where 9,387 heroes are interred.

During my last visit in 2011, 
I asked my student-travelers to wander respectfully 
among the marble crosses and Stars of David 
to find one with whom they could claim a personal connection. 
Many found family names and fellow Wisconsinites, 
while several were touched by the unknown fallen: 
"Here rests in honored glory, 
a comrade in arms known but to God."

The United States of America
proud of the achievements of her sons
humbled by their sacrifices
has erected this monument
in their memory

The names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in Normandy, 
but whose bodies were not recovered, are inscribed on the walls of the monument.

At the center of the memorial is a 22-foot bronze Colossus, 
The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves. 
He is surrounded by the lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

This is a solemn space where the beauty is both haunting and inspiring.

Perhaps my 1994 French phone card says it best:
"In June 44, we said "thank you". In June 94, let's say "welcome."

Americans continue to visit these historic grounds, and this year, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary, the Paris Regional Tourist Office has introduced an engaging way for the French to say "Thank you." French citizens are invited to upload "selfies" on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram along with the hashtag #WeAreFreeMerci.  They collect votes (likes and favorites) from their friends, and from among the ten photos with the most votes, one will win a trip to visit America (NY). In return, Americans may respond by posting selfies with #YouAreWelcomeParis. After similar voting, an American will win a trip to Paris. The campaign began May 5 will continue until June 27. The winners will be selected via random drawing on or around July 2, 2014. Visit We are free! Merci for more details.

{All photos were taken during trips to Normandy in 1994, 2005, and 2011}