D Day In France Revisited

Having recently gone through our annual D-Day observance, I decided to read a recently acquired book, D-Day Through French Eyes, by Mary Louise Roberts. This is the first writing of any kind that I have ever seen on this topic and it was certainly illuminating about D-Day itself through the collapse of the German defense. The original accounts were all in French by Normans and I can’t believe anybody survived. Some 19,000 were killed and hundreds of thousands lost their houses and most or all of their possessions. All of Normandy suffered through bombing and bombardment with cities like Caen being almost completely blown apart.

“It’s a disaster,” he tells me, “the entire center of the town is wiped out! The family is under the rubble, as are Mauret’s wife and their son, as well as the Clement family!….Give me some sheets so I can bury their bodies….Mauret’s wife is in pieces, disemboweled. It’s horrible!” p 72

The war continued and moved on eventually trapping the Germans. In the meantime American soldiers saw Norman children and reacted accordingly. “I’ll have to break down and admit they were the most beautiful children I have ever seen,” wrote journalist Ernie Pyle. Young Normans were more than happy to return the compliment. As Charles Lemeland remembers, “the Americans were nothing by demigods haloed with a kind of supernatural prestige.” Key to that godly status was the secret supply of candy every GI stocked in his pockets.

“All of a sudden, he leaned forward and disappeared from my sight, reappearing after a few seconds. In his hand was a big yellow ball that he held out to me with an almost shy smile. He clearly wanted to give it to me as a gift. Instinctively, I clung to my mother’s skirt. She had been watching the whole scene and said, “Take it, take it! That’s an orange! Thank you sir! Thank you sir!” Comforted by my mother’s reassurances, I went up the the truck and received my first orange. It was wonderful! It was so big that I had to hold it in both hands. It shone like the sun through the clouds on an Autumn day. I was hypnotized by the ball and its unfamiliar smell, which was both sour and sweet. My mistrustful demeanor had the GI in stitches to the point that he was slapping his knees with joy, as if he had just played a good joke on someone. My mother urged me on, “say thank you to the gentleman, say thank you.” I at last opened my mouth and shouted, “thank you.!” My black friend must have heard what I said because a big burst of laughter filled the cabin. p 171

These two selections are pretty much the story of Normandy on D-Day and for weeks after: disaster followed by a struggle to recover.

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