Trip to Omaha Beach offers glimpse of the past

by Jay Proctor
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern Outdoor Recreation

OMAHA BEACH, France ― Thirty KMC members braved a gray and chilly Memorial Day weekend to have a firsthand look at one of World War II’s most famous battle sites.

The academic excursion, part of a U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s Outdoor Recreation trip to Normandy, France, offered participants a hands-on experience of the D-Day invasion. The 67th anniversary of the Allied landings was June 6.
A convoy of vintage American military vehicles made its way along the beach front, including a 1942 GMC truck, a 1944 Dodge command car, a 1944 Willys Jeep and even a German 1940 Saurer.

Christian Scott, who’s stationed in Heidelberg, had the chance to take the jeep for a short spin.

“That made everything perfect,” Mr. Scott said, after parking. “From the moment I saw it, all I wanted to do today was drive the jeep. This is awesome!”

This unique convoy traveled from draw to draw along the beach, turning heads the whole way. It felt like 1944, as a truck’s loudspeakers played the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby tunes of the era. 

Dr. Jean-Phillipe Benamou, president of the D-Day Academy Association, met the group at “Draw D-1” and explained what happened that fateful morning when American, British and Canadian forces waded ashore into battle. At each stop along the beach, Benamou brought events of the invasion to life through detailed descriptions and photos. 

After a three-course lunch of local specialties, the group got a different perspective of the five-mile-long beach from the bluffs overlooking the landing zones.
Remnants of the German fortifications remain on these steep bluffs, a testament to the difficult landing on what was later named “Bloody Omaha.”

After an emotional wreath laying ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, the group saw several notable graves, including the headstone of Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair, one of the highest ranking American casualties of World War II, who was killed by friendly fire. 

In the spirit of French and American friendship, the group laid a memorial wreath of poppies with Dr. Benamou during a ceremony at the statue of the “Spirit of American Youth, Rising from the Waves.”

After a brief stop to handle authentic German and American weapons, radios and equipment, the group continued on their way to Pointe du Hoc and the monument to the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

“What an excellent trip,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lucia Muñoz, while comparing a U.S. Browning Automatic Rifle to a German MG42 machine gun. “The value is way higher than what I paid for the tour.”

As the wind from the English Channel turned colder, the group finished up their long and emotional day among the bomb and shell craters of Pointe du Hoc, before returning to Caen for the evening.  Caen, once home of William the Conqueror, offered options for evening entertainment. 

“The chateau and chapels, and especially the downtown eating area are very nice,” said 1st Lt. Jamie Garay.

Based on the success of this trip, the Pulaski Barracks-based Outdoor Recreation office plans to offer the Normandy trip and other World War II trips in the future, said program manager Steve Selvey.

“We are looking to add more historical trips in the future to our programming calendar,” Mr. Selvey said. “These trips provide a great learning moment for our active-duty military to see how our past affects us today.”