It has taken me a few days to decide to compose my thoughts on Normandy. There are certain experiences and moments that come along in life that alter your perceptions of the past. Much like many of the best moments in life, these moments come by happenstance and coincidence. They can’t be planned. Rather they must be embraced when they come.
Monday was such a moment. Over the course of planning a trip through Europe, France was a stop that had to be made. The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and the Arc de Triumph were all spots that required a planned stop in order to enjoy the history and culture offered. However, an extended stay in Paris also afforded the opportunity to take a day and make the trip out to Normandy and step into scenes that were previously reserved for textbooks and Saving Private Ryan. As we picked the date to make the trip, coincidence intervened: I would be visiting Normandy and all the associated sites relating to D-Day on Memorial Day.
This isn’t meant to be a review of the city itself, though that could be offered. It’s a sleepy little coastal town, like many throughout France and the rest of Europe. On June 6, 1944, history just happened to arrive on the doorstep of this town, though. There are restaurants and bars, cafés and creperies dotting the streets. Playgrounds and bicycle paths are frequented by those who call this town home. But on the day of my visit, it somehow felt different. Starting with Arromanches and moving to the American Cemetery at Normandy, Omaha Beach, and Point du Hoc, the past came alive.
It is hard to adequately describe the feelings that washed over me as I stood in the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, surrounded by the final resting place of so many who gave the last full measure of devotion. Those who had their whole futures ahead of them, yet answered the call to serve when it sounded. It is laughably simple to say, but I felt grateful. Grateful that they did what they did so that I wouldn’t have to. Grateful that they did what they did so that I would be free to hop on a plane, fly across the ocean, meet a Hungarian tour guide, ride in a Ford from Paris to Normandy, and stand where they charged. I was, above all things, grateful.
May 27, 2019 and June 6, 1944 are separated by nearly 75 years. That’s 27,384 days. 657,216 hours. 39,432,960 minutes. 2,365,977,600 seconds. Yet, on that day, standing on the sand of Omaha Beach, it had never felt closer. We still hope and dream. We still love and laugh. We keep our faiths and love our families. We still remember.