23 Septembre 2015
Today was a day I had dreamt about for a long time. Today was the day we got to go to Normandie. Omaha Beach to be exact. The American Cemetery. An awesome and amazing experience. Even more amazing was that I drove the whole way, in a 6-speed stick shift across a country I’d never driven previously. Simply unbelievable.
This morning started out by us getting lost in the underground of the Louvre. Seriously the place is huge. Trying to find the Hertz rental car place amongst 500,000 statues and paintings and people was quite the feat. About 5/6 of the way there, Sweetie looks at me and says, “I don’t have my driver’s license. Is that a problem?” At first I thought as a bit perturbed. Then I decided it would be better with me driving and him navigating anyway, so I didn’t mind.
After we finally found the rental car place – in the bottom of the Louvre near the Rivoli train station entrance – off we went. It’s only been about ten years or more since I drove a stick shift, but it was like riding a bike. Only this time, it was down the Champs Elysses with a thousand other Parisian drivers who knew where they were going. Me, not so much! I was totally winging it. When the rental car lady, Claire, asked me if I needed insurance I said that I did and requested total coverage. You’d completely understand this if you saw Paris traffic. There are Jo real “lanes” and people just go in and out like there is no one else on the road. There are no lines in the roundabouts. I drove around the Arc D’Triumphe without crying or even screaming. It was an other-worldly out of body experience to say the least. I made it, and we carried on our way, sort of using the French-speaking Tomtom navigation system until we finally caved and used my iPhone.
We drove through the the French countryside up north to Normandie, or Normandy as we like to say it in the states. It was beautiful. There were cows, corn fields, hay fields, sheep, old chateaus, really old churches, and many very nice people. We drove about 130 km/HR most of the way, which felt like a lot since it was such a high number. I pretended that it was 130 m/ph at times just to give myself a good laugh.
When we finally arrived at the ocean, it was the most humbling and sacred experience of my life. Over 9,000 young me and a few women have their lives to free a people they did not know. One of those, Harold G. Sellers, was from Jonesboro, Arkansas and was heavily featured in the film in the visitors center. Having lived there for nearly 10 years, I was amazed that, of all the men they could have chosen, they chose one from my home state to honor on the film at the center. Go Hogs! Mr. Sellers was a U of A student when he quit college to join the military, going to England to fight, and losing his life on June 6, 1944 on the very spot upon which I stood today. I found his grave. I stood there, tears rolling down my face, thinking of how brave all those boys were on that extremely scary day. I don’t know that I would have been so brave. I know today’s youth probably would not have been.
Along with Gene Sellers, the others laid to rest there, as a commentator said, earned that piece of French soil. Their graves overlook a brown sandy beach, where the cold waters of the English Channel still pound the shore. With a bluff on either side of the long beach at Omaha, one can easily see why that spit was chosen to land. Why that space on the northern coast of France was the Ground Zero of its day. Why so many, more than 25,009, did not make it past D-Day and the days following. Why over 9,000 are buried there. Why 1,500 more remain missing.
If not for those boys, the Paris I have come to love this week would not be the same. Perhaps the swastika would still be flying aloft on th Eiffel Tower. Perhaps the language would be German instead of the beautiful French. Perhaps sour kraut would be served instead of baguettes and crepes. Perhaps we would not even be alive, having been destroyed as a people. Perhaps many things. But not, for the sacrifice of those braver souls who now rest at Normandie.
There are many towns through the north of France that have old churches, old graves, and old houses. Some of those still stand today because of the heroic efforts of our forefathers. An old church in Formagy stands, from the 13th century. We saw it today, with its old grave markers and rusting fence. One headstone, obviously fallen for a long while, was most likely damages in the war. Perhaps the whole thing would be gone Exocet for those boys. Perhaps.
As I took of my shoes and socks and out my feet in the ice cold water if the English Channel, I said a thank you to those who were lost. Was it enough? Surely not. There can never be enough. As I took photos of the now-greenery covered beach front, I thought of how scary that day must have been for those brave men. Some drafted. Some volunteered. All have something. Some gave all, as they say. I liked out onto the Channel, thinking back to that day over 70 years ago. I looked. I listened. I could hear the marching. The steps. The crashing waves. The screams and cries for victory. The hopes for defeat of the enemy. The hopes that home was not far away.
For some, they have never seen their loved ones again they have never been afforded the opportunity to visit that sacred place. I can say for anyone who can or who hasthe chance – go. You must experience this for yourself.
I close tonight by saying thank you. Thank you to all who have served. Those who serve today. Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Those who never came home despite the promises to family. I also say thank you to those who created the memorial, lest we ever forget that the sacrifices of those men and women allowed us and other peoples to remain free.