The past six days have been a whirlwind of museums and information, places, and food, but the last 48 hours have been astonishingly burdensome. I have touched on World War II in history classes, and discussed the tragedies and casualties, but the recent experiences here in France have caused me to see and feel the weight of this devastating event on a deeper level; a level that could never have been accessed from a textbook or a classroom.
It began when we visited the Caen Peace Memorial Museum. Not only was it set up to physically walk you through the leading events, it continued to bring you through WWII, and narrate each event. One specific walkway in the museum was a thin, dark, downward slanting walkway with a large screen at the end. The screen displayed marching Nazi soldiers with the sound of commands and stomping combat boots. Even with the knowledge of the safe and stable museum around me, and the fact that the black and white video was simply a screen, I began to build a sense of the terror and magnitude of the event.
This feeling was only exacerbated when I watched the first half of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” that night. I had picked out the movie in the movie isle of Target the day before coming on the trip because I had never seen it and knew I would be visiting the D-day beaches. The first 20 minutes of the movie were tremendously gory; the realistic gruesome images of abrasions and massacre were difficult to digest. The next day when we visited the memorial cemetery and Omaha beach I could really visualize the event, and was almost surprised by the serenity of the blue waves and carefree weather surrounding me.
Standing there on the beaches with the wind swishing through my fingertips I faced the reality of the lives lost on that very plot of land. This feeling only swelled when I walked through the WWII cemetery. Winding my way through rows and rows of hundreds of identical white crosses, I felt like a trespasser on sacred grounds. Although it should seem obvious, reading the names of the soldiers engraved on the clean white stones made me painfully aware of how this war not only took many lives, but deeply effected the lives of those who lost loved ones. This series of experiences profoundly touched me, and although somewhat burdensome, I am truly grateful for my new understanding.