May 15th- On A Serious Note

I am at a loss for words. Today there will be nothing funny (I hope) about my post. Today was a very somber and sobering experience. Let me just start with a summary of what we did today; a three hour bus ride brought us to Normandy, where we first visited their WWII museum and memorial. We viewed a fifteen minute minute film with footage from the D-Day invasions. We visited Omaha Beach next, and saw the memorial located there. After the beach, our next stop was at the cemetery for American soldiers who fought in the D-Day invasions. Next, we visited another peace memorial located at another beach that was also a part of the D-Day invasions. There, we viewed another short film (a 360 degree experience) about the D-Day invasions and the liberation of Normandy; then finally we had dinner.
Without any description of what I experienced today other than the summaries of the events, I’m sure you can tell that this was not a lighthearted day. Far from it.
I am very grateful for today, and I think that I gained an extremely significant historical perspective. My heritage is not in the war, that I know of (at least not in the European theater). I am sure I had relatives who fought, but I don’t know of them or their stories. Today was difficult all the same.
The atrocities of were were vigilantly and accurately (I would assume) depicted in the museum. Although there were Europe and Normandy specific wings, the entire war in all its theaters, was documented in and depicted by the exhibits. I left the museum feeling sick to my stomach. I wasn’t aware of how powerful of a day it would be until then. It was a fascinating and beautiful museum, but I did not enjoy it. I feel like my brother the history buff could have spent days there, but I struggled to spend an hour. We wrapped up with a video.

 A wrapper left from Zyklon Gas

The video was all original footage from the invasions. We watched those (REAL) men die onscreen, then went immediately to the place where they drew their last breaths. It was a beautiful beach (Omaha), and we visited at low tide… The invasion began at low tide… It was an enormous distance between the shallows and the end of the beach. There was so much ground for them to cover… I was amazed anyone survived at all. I felt uncomfortable stepping onto the beach; there was this enormous pressure weighing down on me the moment I did; I felt the gravity of it all. It was haunting. I couldn’t bear it for long. Our guide said that people bring their children to these beaches during the summer to run and play and sunbathe as if it were any other beach. But it’s not. It’s screwed up! Everyone taking selfies and treating the situation with so little respect, plus that? I just felt even sicker. The electric energy that filled the air plus the bone chilling wind and the realization that so many died there… some never even made it out of the water… I couldn’t stay.

It’s a long way during low tide

After seeing where countless soldiers fell, we visited their final resting place. France gave the entire plot of land where the cemetery lies to the US. I cried upon learning that all of the faces of each and every gravestone in the cemetery faces the United States, I cried on discovering that the cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach. I cried upon seeing the wall of over 1,500 names of men whose bodies or whereabouts were never found, and upon seeing the approximately 9,300 other graves in the cemetery. I cried that the flags are permanently at half-mast, and that the Star Spangled Banner is played every fifteen minutes. I was basically just crying the entire time we were there. For the second time in my life, I wanted to pray. I reached the chapel and took some time to do so.
The cemetery is a beautiful, thoughtful and respectful memorial to those lost. Each religion is respected with its own headstone. Each fallen hero is given special memorial; even those who could not be identified had beautiful headstones in their honor. By the time we reached the final beach and second film, many of us were emotionally exhausted.

I felt it was disrespectful to take too many pictures…

I’ll never forget the power of this day over me. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a vet who survived D-Day to visit Omaha Beach. It would haunt him, I’m sure… I have such a deep respect for the armed forces. May those lost on D-Day of any other day they spent defending their homes all rest in peace.
We had a group dinner of fish.

All my respect,
Maddie

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