Now and Seventy years ago
June 4, 2014 8:30 AM   Subscribe

The U.K. newspaper The Guardian combines photos from today and D-Day to show what's happened on and around the D-Day landing beaches in the seventy years since.

Click on the images to toggle between then and now.

Some scenes are almost identical, with only lights seams to indicate where a church tower was repaired. Others are completely different once the rubble was cleared away.

The U.S. Army has photos and maps and narratives of their own to share. They say of that Longest Day:
June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.
Paratroopers will jump on Friday, and a number of WWII planes -- including C-47 Dakotas -- are flying in for the anniversary, too.
posted by wenestvedt (22 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
That was pretty awesome. I like the then and now melding photo articles. I'm glad D-Day worked.
posted by Renoroc at 8:53 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's amazing how little somethings change.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:55 AM on June 4, 2014

great photoset! I'm think it's *insane* how a Tank is smaller than a Van
posted by rebent at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the US we would have replaced all those decrepit old buildings with modern strip malls by now. Neat to see what has changed and what hasn't.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:00 AM on June 4, 2014

it's *insane* how a Tank is smaller than a Van

It's just a littleght tank - M3, it seems. Not to be confused with M3 or M3. M3 and M3 also used by the US Army in WWII are easier to tell apart, I think.
posted by hat_eater at 9:18 AM on June 4, 2014

One of my uncles was part of the D-Day invasion; the Utah beachhead, to be specific. He was an MP, and apparently MPs were some of the first ashore: they had to get there ahead of most of the landing force, because they were to act as sort of 'traffic cops' and direct the rest of the troops onto their correct, assigned attack routes.

Uncle Bill said that the first thing he did --- the first thing anybody with any helmet insignia did, if they were to survive --- was to reach down to grab a fistful of mud and smear it over the 'MP' stenciled on the front of his helmet. Otherwise, that white lettering against the olive-drab helmet just acted as a target for German snipers.
posted by easily confused at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

That was a treat, thanks.
posted by hypersloth at 9:41 AM on June 4, 2014

that was fantastic, thanks
posted by photoslob at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2014

My uncle Alvin was one of the kids on those landing boats. Don't know which beachhead since he never talked about it (ever) but he lost half of his right hand that day and almost bled out lying wounded in the sand.
posted by octothorpe at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2014

My grandparents visited Paris and Normandy a couple of months before the 50th anniversary of D-Day (fulfilling a lifelong desire to visit Paris and to see the parish church in Normandy that part of my family came from, not particularly to do WWII tourism, although they did visit the American graveyard in Normandy), and everyone saw they were Americans of a certain age and they were SO NICE to them. They were barely allowed to pay for meals anywhere they went and people of all ages were thanking them and shaking their hands and giving them wine. My grandfather kept protesting that he served in Panama, not Europe, but they said it didn't matter, it was his countrymen all contributing together and they were so, so grateful. They were treated like celebrities everywhere they went.

My grandparents came away with the impression that the French are the nicest people in the entire world and that they absolutely adore and dote upon tourists. :)

(I joke a little, but really, they had the loveliest visit, it was serendipitous that they went just when 70-year-old Americans were the most-loved people in France.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 AM on June 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Octothorpe: Assuming your granddad was American, if you wanted to, you could probably find what unit he was in, and that would tell you whether he was on Utah or Omaha.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on June 4, 2014

Having been to the beaches, it's really hard to get a sense of what they would have looked like during the invasion, even having seen plenty of pictures of it beforehand. These help a lot.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:10 AM on June 4, 2014

Oh, I should add, relevant to the pictures, what struck my grandfather the most about visiting Normandy was how it was so peaceful and green and quiet and prosperous -- that peace came, and stayed, and this site of incredible carnage was now just quiet little towns full of regular people living normal lives. I'm trying to remember exactly how he said it, but he felt both proud and glad the Allies had won and achieved peace, but also (from a more mature standpoint with some decades of reflection) relief that so many of the signs of war can disappear so quickly and return to quiet beaches and rolling countryside, that such horrors fade. He would have loved the pictures of empty, quiet beaches with all the warships and caltrops gone.

He also could never quite get over the EU and how France and Germany went from two massive world wars to monetary unification in under 100 years, and what a thing of hope the EU is. (Hope wrapped in stylish red tape!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:12 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Octothorpe, I would be willing to help you investigate his service if you like. It's not hard -- tons of material is online now -- and it's a really interesting way to connect across generations.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:03 AM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is _fantastic_. I love this sort of thing, and am always impressed with the discipline it takes to find the exact same vantage point as a photo from 70 years ago.

so many of the signs of war can disappear so quickly and return to quiet beaches and rolling countryside, that such horrors fade

I visited Normandy a few years ago. They have preserved a few of the overlooks and landing sites more or less from D-Day onwards. They are not moonscapes, but they are permanently changed by the sheer tonnage of explosives dropped upon them. They reminded me of dirt bike courses, ups and downs, pits, holes, and wreckage. The rest of the villages along the coast have cleaned up quite nicely, of course, but that's because the people wanted to do so.

One other thing, I don't think I comprehended, until I stood on Omaha Beach, just how long that shelf of sand is. It goes on forever. I can't imagine how hard it was to run across that, through the surf, carrying a full pack, under heavy machine gun fire. The third image in the set does a decent job of pointing out just how long those beaches were.
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:20 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heck, checking military records is simple: you can contact the National Military Personnel Records Center online; they'll have a form to fill out with whatever info you do have, and they'll use that to locate any & all records they have on him. They can usually tell you his branch, his military serial number, his rank, his unit, any awards, and perhaps his duty stations.

If you've got your uncle's full name and birthday, you probably have enough for them to go on; the only difficulty will be, the records center had a massive fire about forty years ago, and they lost big chunks: all you can do is hope your uncle's weren't in the burned sections. But they'll happily give you whatever they can find!
posted by easily confused at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, what's even cooler is that you can not only look up where someone was stationed, but you can also order duplicates of service medals. My older brother gave my dad one of the coolest birthday presents ever a few years back - a photo of my grandfather in uniform, with medals indicating his service tours, in a big velvet-backed frame.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2014

I went to the beaches and the cemetery last summer. My grandfather landed a month later on Utah and was part of the 7th Armored Division drive through the Battle of the Bulge, to Germany.

Those 16 inch shell holes are unbelievable, as are the cliffs at Pont du Hoc.

I find the radio broadcasts of the events, as they happened, to be evocative

complete broadcast D-Day radio
posted by C.A.S. at 12:26 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

caution live frogs, ten years ago I replaced my late grandpa's service medals as part of a big research project. He is my namesake. All we had were his dog tags, and I framed one of each of those with medals (for me), and the other dog tag with the corresponding ribbons (for my cousin, also named for him).

And easily confused, if they tell you that they "lost the records in the fire," just ask again! I made three requests and got nothing the first time, then his enlisted records, then his officer records. *shrug* Requests are free, nothing to lose!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:11 PM on June 4, 2014

Leaving the slider halfway so the soldiers and tanks look like ghosts on the modern scenes is... strangely affecting.
posted by Paladin1138 at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Atlantic Monthly's photoblog seems to have republished these today:
posted by wenestvedt at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2014

Related post.
posted by homunculus at 4:55 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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