I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Normandy in April, on the 75th anniversary year of D-Day. I had been to Pearl Harbor in 1994, and remember standing in the memorial over the water, trying to imagine what it would must have been like on December 7, 1941.
25 years later, I found myself standing on Omaha Beach, my back to the ocean, looking at the cliffs and imagining what it would have been like on June 6, 1944, to climb ashore (assuming I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t drown) and face massive artillery fire from hidden bunkers in the cliffs.
Omaha is perhaps the only beach in the world where it’s a more powerful view to stand with your back to the sea, instead of the other way around.
I was struck not only by the enormity of it, and the graphic scenes that flashed through my mind of Hollywood’s version of D-Day, but also by the French countryside surrounding the site.
On the way there, there are seas upon seas of yellow flowers that are used to make canola oil, acres and acres of rolling green farmland… and then you come upon it. Hiking my way down to Omaha Beach, I walked past a cow pasture that overlooks the site. The beauty and serenity of the French countryside juxtaposed with the atrocities that took place just on the other side of the cliff somehow didn’t reconcile in my mind.
There is also a luxury resort just a few miles down the beach. We were told that in the warmer summer months, tourists from around the world are often seen frolicking in the waves. My initial response was disgust at the disrespect for the thousands who gave their lives that day. But when I heard what a veteran once said when he was asked how he felt upon seeing that, my opinion changed. He said that he had watched them swim in the water that had, years before, carried thousands of soldiers to their deaths and others to brutal combat. He went on to say that watching them enjoy themselves, laugh, and live life to the fullest was the very reason why D-Day happened. They were living the freedom that so many had fought so hard for at that very same place.
And it all made sense.
So today, please take a moment to remember. Think about what those men (and some women!) faced 75 years ago. Think about the freedom we have today. And if you ever have the chance to visit Normandy, please seize the opportunity. It is a small piece of the United States in France, and we are forever grateful to the souls who are laid to rest there, and to those who continued to serve for years to come.