Note: This post is heavy on the pictures. Back in Henri’s car, we moved swiftly down narrow country roads away from Bayeux and toward the D-Day beaches.
We were lucky to have a guide who knew where to go and exactly how to get there. Usually the person driving, almost always my dad, misses out on most of the great scenery. And this part of Normandy certainly has beautiful scenery.
I watched through the back passenger window as we passed by wide, green pastures with hedgerow fences and through towns with tall, grey stone walls. It was easy to drift off into daydreams about what these places were like throughout history and before I knew it, we had a glimpse of the coast. Soon the monument to Omaha beach was in sight.
But just as we got close, we started drive right past it.
I think we all let out a collective “Wait? What are you . . .where are you going?”
Henri told us we would be back.
A few minutes later, we parked in a small lot on a hill overlooking the beach near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.
Henri walked us up a dirt path the led to a small monument to the Second Infantry Division and a ruined German casemate.
There’s something about seeing these things in person that really drives home some of the realities war. You can read about it, watch videos, and look at pictures for ages but being able to touch old bunkers and see the beaches just adds a different sense of gravity.
Just as that thought really hit me, Henri showed us the other reason he brought us up to this spot.
A thick covering of greenery, including grasses, different bushes, and wild blackberry brambles, surrounded the area.
Henri plucked a dark, juicy blackberry from one of the many bushes and popped it into his mouth. As he munched, he bent down and pointed to what looked like a small hole in one of the blackberry bushes. Big enough for a fox to get through.
I got this strange tingle of excitement and horror as he pulled back the branches back to reveal something incredible. An old German foxhole. Big enough for a man to get through.
Since Henri was completely prepared and wearing tough, fatigue-like clothing that could resist the brambles, he hopped into the hole and took our camera. My dad stood on the edge of the hole and peered down like a schoolboy, trying to see whatever he could in the darkness.
While Henri was in the hole, my mom and I found our own perfect blackberries to taste (Yes, I know. Take only pictures, leave only footprints. But we were having a moment.). They were deliciously plump and sweet. I savored the flavor and looked out over the sea. The beauty of this place and the pleasure of standing on that hill washed over me.
A breeze blew through and the grasses swayed and whispered. I wondered how much this place had changed and what secrets these hills knew. I tried to imagine what daily life had been like in this spot under German occupation and, then, during and after D-Day.
Henri appeared from of the hole with his pictures and we marveled at how something that seemed so tiny led to such a large area. He told us there were many more foxholes like this all around here and that he would show us a couple.
We drove back down to Omaha beach and parked near the old mulberry that now serves as a foundation for a dock.
After a few minutes, my dad and Henri went off in search of more bunkers and holes while my mom and I walked the beach.
It was a surreal experience because it was so peaceful that day. It felt, for at least awhile, like my mom and I were the only people walking on the beach. I had my bare feet in the sand and I tried to comprehend how horrific D-Day must have been. This quiet, serene place turned into a hell on earth. Looking back toward land, knowing how well-covered it was by the Germans, I found myself overwhelmed, astonished, and emotional.
We both walked around a bit aimlessly for some time, lost in thought. We finally met up and walked up the dock together, visited the monument, and talked about what an incredible experience it was to be here.
After awhile, we started getting worried about the menfolk. They had disappeared up one of the hills and we had no idea when they were planning on coming down.
When they finally did come down, they brought some great photos with them of other hidden holes and bunkers.
And some stunning photos of the beach.
I was feeling almost reluctant to leave, but we still had so much left to see. Our next destination was Point du Hoc.