Walk the Memory Trails at Omaha Beach

Walk the Memory Trails at Omaha Beach

This emblematic beach of the Landing preserves the memory of the clash of arms and the sacrifice of thousands of men.

“Boys!” This is not a place to play. Did you read the inscription? » Laurent Guérin, president of the Omaha Beach Outdoor Committee, calmly calls out to a group of teenagers climbing a low wall and invites them to take a look at the commemorative plaque he is wearing. Here, halfway above Omaha Beach, on June 6, 1944, American tanks began their ascent to the town of Colleville-sur-Mer.

Our small group has been hiking for an hour and a half now on the emblematic site of the Allied landings: a very beautiful beach, six kilometers long, bordered by undulating cliffs punctuated by three villages with names anchored in ancient history: Vierville-sur- Mer, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer. Using the end of the broom handle which, for lack of anything better, now serves as a walking stick, Laurent Guérin first traced on the sand the genesis of the “Sables d’or beach”, its original name. .

To the west as to the east, the light shimmers the orange tablecloths and the “tarpaulins”, these basins of seawater dangerous for swimming. Pointing in turn at the natural pebble bank, the added riprap and the edge of the high embankments, the guide inventories the marks of erosion and the signs of global warming. We are undoubtedly in 2019. The memory of the Landing seems very far away. In any case, this is the opinion of Nathanaël*, a schoolboy in Orléans (Loiret) on vacation here. At 8 and a half years old, he became passionate about History and his knowledge was impressive. What he discovers leaves him disconcerted.

>>> Also see on Lepelerin.com: the landing beaches seen from the sky

History in the open air

As our cohort begins to move, Laurent Guérin is subjected to a first barrage of questions: “There is no blockhouse? » “What are all these scrap metals in the ground?” » “Where are the luxurious villas you speak of?” » As we climb the Revolution Trail to attack the plateau of the same name, the explanations follow one another: bunkers, blockhouses and other casemates are barely visible because they are buried.

Scrap metal flush? They mark the location of the anti-tank ditch – seven meters wide by seven meters deep – dug by the Germans at the rear of the beach. The American genius fulfilled it with everything it could. As for the beautiful 19th century villas, they were destroyed on the orders of Marshal Rommel in April 1944. Only a few snags of walls devoured by ivy and the moth-eaten paving of a tennis court remain here and there. With these residences, the status quo between the German soldiers and the Normans was also shattered.

Our hearts still beating from the climb, we stop on the cliff. The view is breathtaking. There stood Omaha Beach's easternmost defense point, WN60. Others spread out beyond Vierville. On site, the design logic of the famous “Atlantic Wall” becomes transparent: the defensive points come in twos to be able to cross fire, and the garrison did not need to be numerous.

If we could always learn History like that! It changes everything.

In the maze of wooded paths below, we exchange our first impressions. Carine*, supervisor in a Catholic school in Lille (North), highlights the difficulty of choosing words to discuss cruel historical facts with the youngest. Suddenly, the advance guard stops: on the left, a ramp cuts the profile of the slope. “The Americans rarely used the traditional routes between the beaches and the center of the towns on the plateau,” explains Laurent Guérin. They preferred to trace roads 12 meters wide on the side of the cliff: you can see the trace here. »

Back down on the beach, we progress to concrete blocks whose initial destination has been lost in the sand. A few hundred meters offshore, the falling tide has released black masses: all that remains of the artificial port built by the Americans and swept away by a storm on June 19, 1944. Their silhouettes are enough to conjure up in the imagination the The armada launched to attack Omaha Beach thirteen days earlier. There is no need to refer to war films to understand the difficulty of Operation Neptune and to meditate on the hell experienced by the soldiers who landed on these beaches.

In the footsteps of the liberators of 1944

Out of consideration for the young ears of Nathanaël and his little brother, Laurent Guérin speaks with restraint of the men sinking under the weight of their equipment, mowed down by German machine gun fire and at the mercy of the 1,500 mines and other traps littering the beach. . Silently, we follow in their footsteps, flexing our muscles to reach WN62 halfway up the cliff, won at the end of a long morning of fighting.

Higher up, the hike leads to the cemetery where, on 70 hectares, rest 9,388 American soldiers, at least 1,000 of whom lost their lives below on D-Day. The focus of the men of the American Battle Monuments Commission, who control access, seems an echo of their muted voices. On the map, our steps finally drew a lying 8, the symbol of infinity. Going through the first loop illuminates the German position, following the second prompt on the Allied side.

“If we could always learn History like that!” It changes everything,” comments Mada*, a yoga teacher currently setting up in the region. In a sensitive and shared way, without holding back each person's emotions, without strong injunctions to remember, the very real displacement on the land of Calvados opened new corridors of memory through us. Freely. * First names have been changed

To leave accompanied

During the D-Day Festival, June 6 to 23. Series of memorial walks on different sites of the Allied landing. Information: Tourist office and The beach guide

All summer At the initiative of the Departmental Hiking Committee, several Calvados clubs organize “freedom marches” in their municipalities.

All year Omaha Beach Nature Center. Tel. : 02 31 22 26 21, Email. : [email protected]

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