NOIRMOUTIER — Treading where history took place and immersing themselves in the life of their sister city counterparts gave Crestview visitors a new way of viewing their world.
Standing on Pointe du Hoc’s cratered bluff during an overnight excursion to Normandy, Montavius Diamond, 24, suddenly understood the relevance of World War II history lessons.
In June 1944, U.S. Army Rangers scaled the towering bluffs under withering German gunfire and inadvertent shelling from U.S. warships.
"Those guys were younger than me when they climbed up here," Diamond said softly as he gazed at the English Channel over rusted barbed wire crowning the bluff’s edge.
The nearby sword-shaped memorial to Col. James Rudder, namesake of the Rangers training camp at Eglin Air Force Base, gave the Crestview group another connection.
During their stay with host families, participants learned about oyster cultivation, beat the incoming tide as it flooded the causeway connecting the island to the mainland, observed sea salt harvesting, and relished cuisine for which the French are famous.
Pam Coffield watched as a Noirmoutain tailor demonstrated a hand-cranked sewing machine, and marveled at the artist's skill as she guided the fabric with one hand.
"I'd sew my fingers together if I tried that," Coffield said.
Crestview visitors who compared Noirmoutier's oysters with those from Florida found the oblong-shelled French variety more flavorful.
"But I still don't like oysters," Diamond said after forcing one down.
Viewing the Bayeux Tapestry — which depicts events preceding Normans' England conquest — and Mont Saint-Michel, an island monastery in Normandy, contrasted with the somber experience of the vast American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
"What a tragic waste of young lives," Richard Baker-Rian said, shaking his head as he walked between endless rows of crosses.
Under a medieval cathedral’s towering Gothic vaulted ceiling, Rip Coleman whipped out his flute and played a melody .
"It had tremendous acoustics," Coleman said. "It made the music come alive."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.