A few months ago we crossed the English Channel by way of the Chunnel, a very smooth train ride in our auto. Only twenty-two minutes and we were there. We spent a lovely evening and night in comfortable rooms at a small motel in the village of Honfleur, France. The next morning we packed snugly into our friend Dave’s little red car ready to visit Normandy Beaches, particularly Omaha Beach.
None of us, four Americans and one Brit, had been there before. We were eager to learn what we could about this historic site where so many of our soldiers fought and died for us to enjoy freedom. We wanted, not just to learn facts, but somehow to honor those men and women who gave their all.
Our excursion took us through a beautiful countryside where cows grazed quietly, where high three-bladed windmills spun lazily on rounded hills, and quaint bungalows looked out from behind neat hedges or stone walls.
Dave had a good GPS telling him the turns to make, go right down this road, or left on that one. So we arrived at the Normandy Beaches on schedule about 10:30 in the morning and began to take in the views.
It was cold and gloomy, the sky gray and lowering, appropriate weather, we thought, for remembering D-Day. We pulled our jackets close and put up our hoods as we read historic markers, walked almost to the sea, looked down on Gold and Sword Beaches trying to imagine the terror, the bravery, the fortitude, the faith of those soldiers coming in to shore on that cold, cold morning in 1944.
We stood in a 360 degree theatre and watched a black and white film of the drama, gasping and cringing at what we saw. As we left with the crowd from that theatre, there was an eerie silence as if there were no words for how we felt.
There were flower offerings at the memorials, left there perhaps on the recent Memorial Day, or perhaps by family members who may go at any time to find their father, grandfather, uncle or cousin. Flags flicked and snapped in the wind.
It was growing late. We had not yet seen either of the beaches where thousands of Americans swarmed in that day to beaches, code names Omaha and Utah. Our map and Dave’s GPS were deficient in showing the way to specific beaches along the ragged coast.
The roads were narrow and winding, sometimes taking us close to a cottage porch, other times dividing fields and pastures. We stopped at crossroads several times for our navigator and driver to study the map or look at signs, in French of course, and try to find Omaha Beach. In our twisting and turning and backtracking we met a large touring bus several times and considered that the driver, also, must be lost, until we finally realized there were several buses!
I’m grateful that Harley and Dave didn’t give up and we finally arrived where the beautiful memorial and the crosses, row on row, honor our brave Americans who gave their all for our freedom. We spent a long time there reading names, considering their sacrifice and that of the survivors and all veterans right to the present. We took pictures and considered the history since that day and how horribly different it could be now if Hitler’s army had won. We walked through the large, beautifully constructed Memorial talking quietly about statues, flags, and brave veterans we know.
We were all in awe of the historical event and of the way it is commemorated.
By now the sky had brightened for us, even late in the afternoon. But on that day, June 6, 1944, I think it was brutal all day. As we walked towards the parking lot we were still trying to take it all in. Charles commented that bad weather was not at all good for our soldiers that day, but it was good for our cause in creating a surprise invasion since the enemy thought we wouldn’t go in under such horrible conditions. It was amazing, Harley added, that so many men with equipment made it to shore that day and fought and won that very crucial battle, though so many perished.
As we drove away, I noticed a nearby pasture where cows calmly grazed. The scene was so peaceful. All the horror of those days of the Normandy Invasion could be forgotten.
But the crosses are there as a witness.
My mother memorized and recited many times the poem by John McCrae who died in World War I after penning the lines that would resonate through the years. The first few lines read like this: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
P.S. At Wal Mart today veterans are giving red poppies as they have done for as long as I can remember. It’s a good time to tell them how much we appreciate them and make a donation. Tomorrow at our church veterans from each branch of service will be recognized.