The allied forces left their mark on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, 75 years ago. The planned invasion started the liberation of the country of France of Nazi Germany control.
Though it was many years ago, every bomb-formed crater can still be seen and felt there. German gunner sites with layer and layer of concrete and steel still show the spots where American, British and Canadian soldiers fired away. The roof of a concrete bunker still shows the burnt ceiling when allied forces used flame throwers to destroy what remained. Wadena residents Luther and Marilyn Nervig were able to see and feel what remained when they visited the site in September.
"This site (Pointe du Hoc) is exactly the way it was when the war was over, which is amazing to me," Nervig said. The Nervigs saw Utah and Omaha battle sites and the American Cemetery, a small area of the fighting that took place, which took them an entire day.
Nervig explained that soldiers arrived on the beach in the early morning hours with 90-foot sheer cliffs before them. They had a half hour to reach the top. They did so with rocket-propelled grappling hooks and rope ladders from London. Nervig said he learned 225 commandoes landed on the beach and only 90 of them survived.
As American's tried to climb, Germans would lower bombs down by rope killing many. Those that made it to the top were assaulted by German machine gun fire. Commandos would have had difficulty firing upon the Nazis from their concrete bunkers. The Nervigs were able to step inside those structures that remained. Concrete was everywhere, protecting from all sides. Most of this remains thanks to the French desire to preserve this horrific piece of history.
"There is no tourist stuff at all," Nervig said. "The French made a decision to leave it exactly as it was at the end of the war."
While those signs of war were dramatic, the work of memorializing those that fought there was also an impressive site. Within Normandy County is the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,387 Americans were laid to rest. Those men were buried there right under the grass. The average age of the Americans were 23.
"It's a very emotional place," Nervig said. "We can't forget the sacrifice ... These 9,387 people gave their life so we can enjoy ours."
At that site, the Nervigs stood facing the cemetery, an American flag and listened to the playing of "Taps." Those with family involved in WWII were able to lay flowers at the foot of a monument there. Guides there hold ceremonies four times a day at the cemetery.
"I don't think there was a dry eye," Nervig said in a recent presentation to Wadena Rotarians.
The Nervigs visited the site with a group of about 30 others as part of a 10-day boating trip from Paris.
"It was on our bucket list," Nervig said. "We've been to France but we've never been to Normandy. It's so far over on the northwest corner that it takes a major commitment just to get over there."
The cost of the Normandy campaign was high on both sides. From D-day through August 21, the Allies landed more than two million men in northern France and suffered more than 226,386 casualties: 72,911 killed/missing and 153,475 wounded. German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured. Between 13,000 and 20,000 French civilians died, and many more were seriously wounded, according to White House archives.
Nervig said those planning to visit the site someday should plan ahead as there is an endless amount of battle sites and history to visit. The Nervigs are avid travelers and were glad to mark this spot off their bucket list.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
The names of 1,557 soldiers are inscribed on tablets in the cemetery’s Garden of the Missing. They came from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The remains of approximately 14,000 others originally buried in this region were returned home at the request of their next of kin. A father and his son are buried there, side by side, and in 33 instances two brothers rest side by side. The headstones are of white Italian marble -- a Star of David for those of Jewish faith and a Latin Cross for all others. The permanent cemetery is located on land France granted to the United States in perpetuity, on the site of the temporary American cemetery established June 8, 1944. It is one of 14 permanent World War II military cemeteries constructed on foreign soil by the American Battle Monuments Commission, an independent U.S. federal agency that commemorates the service, sacrifice, and achievements of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The memorial consists of a semi-circular colonnade with a loggia at each end. On the platform immediately west of the colonnade is sculptor Donald De Lue’s 22-foot bronze statue, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” a tribute to those who gave their lives in these operations. Around its base is the inscription, “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord.” The floor of the memorial’s open area is set with pebbles taken from the invasion beach below the cliff.