Monday, June 6, 2016

In Honor of D-Day: Strolling Along Omaha Beach

I meant to write this post one year ago, but when I missed the date, I found it only fitting to hold off until this year.

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Normandy landings, better known as the D-Day invasion of World War II. Rather than try to sum it up myself, here's the U.S. Army's version:
On June 6, 1944, more than 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. Gen. 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, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.
During my eight months in France, my friends and I knew that we could not pass up the opportunity to visit Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery. So one dreary weekend in April 2015, we packed up and headed to northern France to visit this historical landmark.

As soon as we passed through those gates, we were on American soil, just like that. From the first language being English to the water fountains scattered throughout the grounds (never to be found in France), it sure felt like the U.S., too. And as much as I adore France and feel secure there, I breathed a sigh of relief to be back "home."

After passing through security, we made our way through the museum. There were personal accounts, historical texts, audio and video clips, artifacts, and even interactive displays that took you through the events leading up to the famed invasion, as well as the details of what happened. I did not take any photographs in the museum, except for this quote that greeted you upon the exit.

We walked out, and there was Omaha Beach, staring us in the face.

We learned that Omaha was a actually code name for the beach, as were Sword, Gold, Utah, and Juno. Taking the winding trails down to the beach, it felt like a nature trail rather than a former war zone.

It was a hilly descent (and climb), even with the boardwalk in place--we couldn't fathom the idea of being in full Army uniform, maneuvering through the grasses and trees and marsh to get to the enemy, all while protecting ourselves and our comrades. But the beach itself was beautiful and calm, the total opposite of what you would expect a World War II battlefield to be.

After wandering along the rocky shores, we headed up to the cemetery. Nearly 10,000 Americans have been laid to rest here, most of whom died during the D-Day invasion. It felt like a smaller, cloudier version of Arlington Cemetery: religious gravestones perfectly lined up, with monuments and reflecting pools along the pathways. The cemetery also offered a wonderful view of the beach.

It was a sobering day in Normandy, but we were so thankful to have visited. God Bless America.

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