This October, four fellow Fulbright grantees and I tagged along on a CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) trip to Normandy, France. It was three days packed with European culture on which we bonded over the grandeur of Mont Saint Michel, French speaking tour guides, and truly excellent moulle frit.
One of our first stops was Le Pointe Du Hoc, a 100 meter high cliff jutting out into the sea which the Germans used as a vantage point to prevent boats from landing on the surrounding beaches. It was the mission of the Rangers (to whom the memorial on Le Pointe is dedicated) to scale the cliffs and neutralize the German weapons. It is safe to say (even after just finishing Saving Private Ryan on the bus) that I was in no way prepared for the awe I felt stepping onto the field at Pointe Du Hoc. The beautiful Normandy coast steely water, imposing cliffs, overcast sky, and tall rippling grass was riddled like swiss cheese. Every two meters was a giant crater formed from the ten kilotons of explosives that Pointe Du Hoc was hit with by the end of D-Day. These craters were so numerous we had to watch our step so as not to slide into one. Not quite so numerous, but still very present, were the remains of German bunkers. They were massive concrete structures built just below the ground with walls a meter thick at least. Standing inside, the bunkers seemed indestructible; but just a few steps away were hunks of stone blasted apart as if they were legos.
We visited other beautiful and touching World War II memorial sites during our long weekend (Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and the port at Arromanches). But for me, being surrounded at Pointe Du Hoc by such physical representations of the chaos of the war and the bravery of the soldiers was a truly humbling experience. I felt a kinship to my fellow Americans during this trip, but also a stronger connection, and gratefulness, to the people of Belgium and France for the memorials that remind us of what our countries went through together.
2015-2016 U.S. Fulbright Research Student grantee to Belgium