No. 270: Normandie—D-day Beaches
“At the edge of the cliffs, the wind is a smack, and D-day becomes wildly clear: climbing that cutting edge into the bullets.”
— John Vinoc
The D-Day beaches in Normandie are a study in contrasts. They are flat-out gorgeous—expansive ginger seaside bound by sheer rocky cliffs, burnt-orange and dripping with green. And beyond the shore, a gem-like sapphire sea too blue to be real, dares us to dip our toes, splash about and maybe even go under. I wasn’t expecting real beaches with colorfully clad beachgoers, sand buckets, and picnics. I had anticipated a more museum-like feel or roped off memorial.
Yet among the vacationers, there is a quiet reverence and consciousness amid the many reminders of the thousands of men who stormed the beaches at the crack of dawn on June 6, 1944. In fact the entire coastline, while still a sunshine playground, pays tribute to the British, American, and Canadian armies who laid down their lives to liberate France and occupied Europe.
Never have I felt so close to a moment in history.
To walk the shoreline and climb the cliffs and watch the waves crash towards Winston Churchill’s brilliant artificial harbor, you can almost see the ghosts of Robert Capa’s black and white photographs slugging through the tempest tides, gunned down or drown in the first minutes of the longest day. You certainly can feel their presence.
Overcome with pride and immense sadness and sheer wonder at how the lucky ones physically and mentally survived. Time and again you are reminded of the doughboys and the thousands of wide-eyed journeys they made from the cities and small towns of America, Britain, and Canada to the violent beaches of Normandy, France, to help a country and people they had never seen and to whom they had little tangible connection.
Yet still they came, willingly and righteously, and offered up their lives.
It is nothing short of astounding.
Watching all the celebrations today has been a real emotional rollercoaster. What must those young men have felt waiting to board their ships or storm the beaches? Unbelievable, and the dignity the survivors show is extraordinary. My own Dad fought in a different sector and he landed in Sicily, would never really talk about the war though. Different generation.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about D-day and for the service of your father in WWII. I have a brother recently home after 4 tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, this generation is not talking either. I don’t know how any of them survive the scars of war.
I wish your brother well, he will need support and love from friends and family. Try getting him to talk or write about his experience.
It is an amazing place Nancy and to be there now would be truly memorable! Have you been to the War Museum in Caen?
No. I haven’t been there yet. I would like to go though. It is a very emotional weekend in France.
very very nice post in words and pics – congratulations!
Reading about the D Day landings in the press this week has reduced me to tears, particularly hearing the stories of the guys of my father’s generation for whom this may be their last chance to take the proud but heartbreakingly sad trip to the site where such unspeakable human horror took place.
Three words “lest we forget”
Such a moving post- I first visited this area when I was 17 and on an exchange programme from England and I’ve been back a couple of times since then including with my husband and toddler (she’s now 26!). It was such an emotional experience to wander around the American Cemetery and try to get my head around what it must have been like back in 1944 – rows upon rows of graves and they were just kids most of them 18 or 19, younger than my 2 girls are now. It’s so calm and peaceful these days how different it must have been back then. It’s so important that their memory is honoured and their service and sacrifice recognised. My dear mum who’s nearly 89 and has dementia, talks a lot about the 2nd World War (she served in the Wrens as a radio telegrapher) – you realise what a profound effect those terrible years had on the people who lived through them. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them”.
Thank you for the lovely and eloquent comment. The American Cemetery is so moving, along with the beaches. I remember just trying to sit (literally and figuratively) with it all the afternoon we were there, and trying to understand why we so often make war. With a brother who served 4 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and now with what is happen again there, I feel like lessons are never learned.
I know I feel exactly the same way. I studied history at uni and feel it’s so important that people understand the past and how these awful conflicts never resolve anything. So sad for the innocent people and especially the children who suffer as a result. Let us hope that sensible heads prevail 🙂