Fritz Coutchie ’15 – Bonjour à tous! Volumes could be written about a semester abroad in France; unfortunately, I am limited by the format of a blog post. Although I studied in Paris, one of the most valuable learning experiences with my classmates occurred on a sponsored class trip to the Normandy region. The trip was designed to give students an opportunity to build relationships with each other, while appreciating the shared history and culture of France and the United States of America. Although I was familiar with the basics of the D-day invasion of Normandy, I was unable to appreciate the scope of the military operation before my visit to the various museums, memorials and Omaha Beach.
We first visited the Memorial de Caen, a museum dedicated to the history of WWI and WWII. The visit was a primer for the more impactful experiences later. We then traveled to Asnelles-sur-Mer, which is a small coastal town, for the night. Subsequent to the Normandy landing of World War II, the British installed artificial floating harbors in the region. While staying at Asnelles-sur-Mer, we were able to climb and inspect the remnants of one of these harbors at low tide. We finished our visit to Asnelles-sur-Mer by visiting a nearby D-Day museum where we learned more about the logistical aspects of the landing and the artificial harbor installations. Later that day we visited the Normandy American Cemetery.
Is there a word that describes an experience or sight that causes both pride and sorrow? If not there should be. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial celebrates the achievements and goals of the American Soldiers who died during the Normandy invasion, and mourns for the deaths of thousands of young American citizens. The cemetery is perched over Omaha Beach, a tactical landing point for American forces in World War II. The gravestones are lined with perfect symmetry, standing in a walkway staring over the tops of hundreds of white crosses I was struck with a sense of awe. A couple of classmates and I decided that we wanted to see Omaha Beach, after such an emotionally gratifying experience, visiting the beach should help us organize our thoughts.
To reach the beach one must walk down a couple of flights of stairs and then through a wooded quarter-mile trail. As we reached the final starch of the trail and the English Channel became visible we noticed one other group on the beach. It was an older couple, a German man and his wife; the man had just gotten out of the ocean wearing only a pair of white briefs. It was the best example of situational irony I’ve experienced. After one of the most impactful experiences of my life at the cemetery, I expected to have a similar one at the beach, but instead I saw an elderly man in a wet pair of white briefs.
I returned from the weekend closer to my peers with a renewed sense of the gravity of the shared history of the United States of America, and France.