Colleville-Sur-Mer, France — When the Michigan football players watched a 20-minute movie about the Normandy Invasion at the Caen-Normandie Memorial early Sunday, they saw young men their ages.
But they were young men who didn’t look like them.
They had hollow eyes and they were gaunt. Some looked determined, others bewildered. They were at war as part of the Normandy Invasion in World War II, and they were trying to survive.
“It puts football in perspective for you, that we’re all 18- to 22-year olds,” offensive lineman Ben Bredeson said. “We worry about going out and performing on Saturday when these guys were worried about fighting for their lives. Just makes you think about the bigger picture.”
The Michigan players learned more about World War II and the sacrifices made. They also got a heavy dose of perspective.
“It kind of puts our freedom in perspective knowing the fate of the free world rested on this beach and if those men hadn’t sacrificed themselves in order for us to get this, we’d probably all not be free right now because the Germans had the momentum and we might all be speaking German right now," offensive lineman Stephen Spanellis said.
Michigan players talk about the experience and what they've learned about the history of the Normandy Invasion in France on Sunday. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
After the museum, the team stopped at Arromanches-les-Bains, the artificial port created to help the U.S. and Allied forces unload heavy equipment for the invasion. It was cold, rainy and very windy, but the players spanned the area and observed the beach where landings took place.
“It’s awesome that some men similar to my age right now did what they did, all for our country,” said running back Tru Wilson, whose father is in the Marines. “It’s a really humbling experience.”
Wilson learned plenty from the movie.
“It really puts it in perspective and shows the raw emotion that they were going through at the time of fighting for something that’s really bigger than they are,” Wilson said. "It’s amazing what they did.”
The players were very much in tune with the age comparison.
“That’s a tough concept to grasp,” fullback Jared Wangler said. “People three to four years younger than me and they stormed the beach. It makes you admire what they did.”
Defensive back Louis Grodman said it was impossible to imagine what the young soldiers were going through.
Michigan players talk about Sunday's "humbling experience" at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
“You can watch the movie and see what they saw, but being there in the moment fighting, we can’t fathom what the experience was or what it would have been like," Grodman said. "We’re able to appreciate the sacrifices.”
Bredeson found out he had a great uncle who was part of the invasion of Normandy. He said the visit Sunday with his teammates is unforgettable.
“It’s stuck with me so far and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away,” Bredeson said. “This is something you can tell your kids and grandkids about.”
The team then visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and held a special ceremony at the “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” bronze. Running back Chris Evans felt the emotion of the moment when taps played.
“You could really feel the emotions in the air,” Evans said, before answering what he took from the experience. “Don’t take life for granted. Some people did this willingly to fight for our country.”
Linebacker Khaleke Hudson was amazed to learn that the average age of the soldiers in the invasion was 23.
“It’s been a humbling experience just to know what these soldiers went through for our freedom and how they got everything done and invaded the beaches,” Hudson said. “It’s crazy to think about.”