Today marks the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. To honor the occasion, I thought I would share a few of my own personal photographs and reflections, as well as some excellent web sources for teaching.
Back in 2009, my husband and I went on a cruise of the Baltic Sea and English Channel for our honeymoon. Along the way, we stopped in Cherbourg, France and went on a tour of several WWII sites. Needless to say, the experience was sobering, but incredibly moving and showed the unity between the Allied nations that persists to this day.
At Utah Beach as we visited the monuments, I was immediately reminded of my high school French teacher. Aside from his enthusiasm for all things French, he taught the language through historical and cultural lessons that I remember to this day. He always spoke to us in French and most of the idioms and phrases that I recall were because of this practice. He always referred to D-Day by the date in French, le six juin mille neuf-cent quarante-quatre, and that date is still my frame of reference for remembering calendar dates in French.
I took this picture of the monument in front of the Visitors' Center for my French teacher:
Paradoxically, of all the places I have visited in my life, Utah Beach was one of the most beautiful despite its history. There were a handful of people combing the beach for shells and sitting on blankets just looking out over the water. Just as always happens, people and nature had reclaimed the site, but there was still a level of unspoken respect for what had occurred there. People were few and far between on the beach itself, and those who were there were engaged not in sunbathing or swimming, but more quiet and contemplative activities.
Unlike many American battlefields that I have visited, there were very few cameras and binoculars and no guided tours or gift shops. It seemed that at this particular beach, the monuments were erected and the beaches maintained so that visitors could reflect in their own quiet way. Perhaps as time passes it will become more like the Gettysburg and Valley Forge sites that I have visited, but it seems like maybe WWII is still too young, too close.
We visited Sainte-Mere-Eglise next, the site of one of the lesser known stories of D-Day. Technically the first town liberated from Nazi control by Allied forces, Sainte-Mere-Eglise flies both the American flag and the French flag in front of public buildings, businesses and homes. The Airborne Museum in the center of town pays tribute to the parachuters who were able to defeat German forces despite heavy losses. American soldier John Steele, who hung the church steeple caught in his parachute and open to German fire for over two hours, has become a local hero and icon. Today, a white parachute hangs in the same spot in remembrance.
It could be the distraction of other important news events that occurred today, but I was surprised by how infrequently the D-Day anniversary was mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds today. By retelling these personal stories and exploring some of the resources below, I would be proud if my students also remembered the date and events of D-Day later on. Even if they remember the date in English...
PBS D-Day Film and Teacher Resources
National WWII Museum D-Day Site and Resources
D-Day Primary Sources from the National Archives