REFLECTIONS OF WORLD WAR II
TOUR OF BATTLEFIELDS
Billy Ray Godwin May 31 2008
Earlier this year, a young lawyer, Billy Ray Godwin, Jr., visited European World War II battlefields in honor of his father Billy Ray Godwin Sr., and other World War II Veterans from his hometown.
We were gone a week...three days of which were in Normandy. Allowing for a day of travel The rest of the trip was spent in Holland visiting the Market Garden Sites of Arnhem, Eindhoven, & Nijmegen. We flew home via Amsterdam. While there, I visited the Ann Frank Home. A touching ending to a WWII battlefield trip. Unfortunately, I could not get to Bastogne...not enough time.
To me, the highlight of the trip was Normandy. In hindsight, I would have spent another day there. If you are really "into" [as I am], the tactical situation, in addition to the beaches, there is so much to see off the beaten path. Most people think of only the invasion beaches but that is only part of the story. Normandy is still very much a rural agricultural region. Animals and crops are everywhere. It has its own earthy smell and ambiance.
Being able to go to the locations I have read so much about is quite an experience. Places like Pointe Du Hoc; St. Mere Eglise; La Fiere (82nd AB - James Blue fought here); St. Marie Du Mont; Grainges Village; Carentan; Brecourt Manner (of Band of Brothers fame)....the list goes on and so could I.
the price of freedom...something too few people in my opinion appreciate today.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pvt Harry Nivens, 502nd PIR / 101st, a veteran of the jump. Harry was there w/ his family. He was originally from Winston-Salem, but now lives in Florida. Recently on the military channel, I saw him interviewed on a special about the 502nd in Normandy...
While visiting the church at Grainges Village (pronounced "Gren") where the SS massacred a number of 82nd POW's including the Battlion Surgeon, my tour guide picked up off the ground a spent M-1 cartridge and gave it to me. Other than the memories, this is my most valued souvenir.
It sits on my desk and reminds me everyday of the price of freedom...something too few people in my opinion appreciate today. You have seen firsthand the price of freedom. Without sounding too melancholy, I often wonder if the trooper who last chambered and fired this round was one of those massacred or whether he survived. I actually mailed it home in an envelope as I was unsure if I could get it past airline security. It took about three weeks to catch up with me at home but it finally did.
Words are not effective to articulate the experience.
And the beaches...yes the beaches. I cannot describe them adequately, especially Omaha. I have read all my life about the bluffs overlooking Omaha beach and how they had to be taken. Some of the books, Ambrose in particular, do a pretty good job of describing the site and the obstacles they presented however, until one sees them, one can - in my opinion - never appreciate the magnitude of the effort necessary to accomplish the mission.
I cannot imagine being on the Omaha beaches the morning of 6 Jun 44. Many of the German defenses did not face the beach but actually faced down the beach to enfilade the attacking forces. Omaha is actually about 5 miles long and is composed of three villages namely Colleville; St. Lauren, and Vierville.
Again, at the risk of being too melancholy, I have to admit that Omaha beach brought out an emotion in me that I have only experienced once before during one of my (and dad's) many trips to Gettysburg. Upon visiting the landing area of the US 1st Inf. at Colleville, our tour guide turned us loose to walk the beaches "to our own thoughts" as he put it. As I turned away from my buddies and walked down the beach alone in the opposite direction from them, a wave of emotion suddenly swept over me like a tide. I had no warning. It just came. I wept like a child.
Words are not effective to articulate the experience but it's like the souls of those who died there came out of the sands I walked upon to find solace in a sympathetic heart. The very sands it seems - are sad - and call out to those who walk them as if to say be mindful of the sacrifices made here. Perhaps that is what a visit to Calvary might be like..I dont know... in a strange way, during that few minutes, I felt very much at home. I have since wondered if I had been there "before" and had come back "again". Even now as I write these words those emotions seem to want to emerge again as I think about that place and that moment in time. Am I thinking of 2007 or 1944...or both ? Anyway, I did not intend to write all that but it just came out.
As I turned away from my buddies and walked down the beach alone in the opposite direction from them, a wave of emotion suddenly swept over me like a tide.
These comments are more to offer my perceptions of the trip. I really want to go back and take my wife sometime. I told Chuck Turnage recently that for the next "big" WC Lee celebration, we should invite the Mayor of St. Mere Eglise to Dunn. That would really be an event since Gen. Lee help set in motion the events that led to the liberation of that Norman town. He thought that an interesting idea. We'll see. I'll volunteer to go over to invite him.
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