LONG AWAITED, A VISIT TO NORMANDY

NORMANDY: AN UNBELIEVABLE EXPERIENCE!

D-Day, June 6, 1944, was a long, long time ago, but those of us who were children then, and still are around today, remember it – if only vaguely.

I was seven. I remember the headline in the Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s tabloid morning newspaper. That headline type was huge. Today I know that it was at least 84-point bold Roman type, possibly larger. I didn’t know about headline type and point sizes way back then. I would learn that much later – during my long journalism career. All I remember from back in 1944 is the type was BIG!

The same size type would be repeated 14 months later: Friday August 14, 1945 – VJ Day, the day World War II ended. … The day Japan surrendered. Germany had laid down its arms in May. The globe that is The Earth – our home – was, at long last, at peace … at least for awhile.

Omaha Beach August 2022

On August 18, 2022, our family of five set foot on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, where American troops landed on D-Day. We explored the beach and sand dunes, the German installations on the way up the steep hill, the view of the beach from the top. To the west lay the blue Atlantic.

We walked the hallowed ground where, today, our fallen troops lie quietly.

Overwhelming, puts it mildly. Pristine. Row and row and row upon row of white markers – the occasional Star of David standing among the crosses. Though people walk continually along the cemetery’s tree-lined path, the quiet remains, broken only by the occasional child’s cry amidst the soft murmurs of adult voices. How does one say this is the best part? But it is. This is where the reality began – and remains today.

Ahead lies a tall, slender monument. Inside is a chapel erected by the United States of America:

“In grateful memory of her sons who gave their lives in the landings on the Normandy Beaches and in the liberation of Northern France. Their graves are the permanent and visible symbol of their heroic devotion and their sacrifice in the common cause of humanity.”

These words grace the altar:   

I GIVE UNTO THEM ETERNAL LIFE AND THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH 

The window depicts both cross and six-pointed star.

It was the experience of a lifetime … after waiting a lifetime to see it … to be there.

 

For up close and personal encounters we visited the nearby Overlord Museum. Overlord was the code name for D-Day.

There, we breathed in vivid depictions – what that day must have been like shown in living detail. A PT boat, the ramp extended, down which our GIs walked into the surf off the coast of Normandy. Some fell before reaching shore. But more came behind them and ultimately the numbers gained the shore and advanced – and kept advancing.

Tanks – German and American – Jeeps and halftracks in tableaus so real we could reach out and touch the soldiers – manikins in dirty, sweat-soaked uniforms. Unreal. Yet quickly a harsh reality to we spectators who moved slowly along the cordoned off displays. Again all ages. A babble of female, male and children’s voices.

And above it all, the Stars and Stripes, the American flag!
My grandson Daniel, and one of the many tanks.

I remember being part of the grade school color guard at Denver’s Stevens Elementary School. At 3:15 in the afternoon,  seven of us marched single file to the flagpole. Standing tall – saluting properly – slowly, reverently, we lowered the precious Stars and Stripes. The pride that swelled in me all those years ago returned when I walked the beach and the cemetery in Normandy, France, August 18, 2022. It’s what America is all about.

Thank you for reading my Blog and my Newsletter, and for reading my books about the WASP – women pilots of World War II.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for taking me there with you. I was there in 2013 and felt the same awe over the experience. I was saddened at the time to see in the American cemetery that Americans had trampled the grass on the grave of the real Capt. Miller whose name was used for Tom Hanks character in “Saving Private Ryan”. It saddened me deeply that the French people were lined up to come in and place flowers daily as a tribute to the Americans who freed their county from Hitler’s control BUT some Americans just wanted to see the grave of the hero with the name used in a movie. I was indeed embarrassed at the time to be an American standing on such hallowed ground.

  2. Wonderful post, Sarah. I know this was very special to you, and your tribute was moving to read. Look at Daniel … what a wonderful young man. So glad you could share this experience with him and the rest of your family! Joyce L.

  3. So typical of Sarah to make it so special for those of us who had never been there, but who were alive when it all happened. While a child myself I recognized the importance of the sacrifice of so many men and women that ended WWII. Sherry Toepfer

  4. Glad to know that your family made this trip recently. I have this sense whenever I visit one of the Civil War sites and cemeteries. Antietam was most vivid to me. I was in Southern Germany, Austria (Tyrol) and Italy in June but did not visit any WWII sites. Our guide in Florence told us the only bridge across the Arno River to not be destroyed by the Germans was the ancient bridge that was too narrow for military vehicles , thank God!

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