We have spent the past few days in Normandy, visiting D-Day landmarks, and talking about the significant history that accompanies them.
Tuesday morning, after a lengthy bus ride, we arrived at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. After hearing for years in school about this cemetery, and talking extensively about the thoughtful intention and arrangement of the land, it’s safe to say I knew what to expect and felt prepared for ‘look’ of the cemetery; but what I could not have prepared for was the atmosphere.
We arrived, quickly took a few ‘fam’ photos, and were sent off to explore on our own. I walked immediately to the cliff looking out onto the beach. As we approached the railing on the edge, we all quickly grew silent, and just stood looking out over the waves crashing on this legendary beach. Among my thoughts and reactions was surprise—how could a place where so much blood was shed and so many were killed look so peaceful? Not many people were there, so it was relatively quiet, the sound of the waves echoed and was magnified off of the cliff, overpowering the background conversation. The water was vibrant and glistened in the sunlight. It was almost hard to imagine looking out from this same cliff 71 years ago, and even harder to imagine the events of D-Day unfolding in the very place on which you’re standing.
After a brief walk through the Visitor’s Center and Museum, I walked towards the seemingly unending rows of white tombs. As I moved off of the path and in between the headstones I walked in a direction towards the stones so that I was unable to see the name on the front until as I approached it– leaving a strong sense of the anonymity and uniformity that is so often associated with the military present in the cemetery. I had learned in school about the layout of these white marble crosses (and a few Jewish stars of David)—how they were aligned to always appear in a military style line regardless of the angle from which one is looking. As I looked around, trying to ‘test’ this, I failed miserably at ‘disproving’ this, and each turn of my head was simply met with another long line of crosses.
These lines of crosses, despite the seemingly tranquil view, were an unwavering reminder of the lives lost here and the violent war that had taken place here.
I had not expected to feel as connected to the history of the site as I did—when we arrived I thought that I could just walk around for a little bit and hop back onto the bus when it was time to go to continue with our busy day; but, I could not get the image or the feelings out of my head.