29 May 2017 11:32 CDT
Somewhere, on the other side of the world, this place exists. This place called Normandy, France. A region of France, actually, it’s not the town where the landings occurred, but more the area. The town closest to Omaha Beach is Formigny, where on every day except Wednesday, you can eat in the small cafe. Where every day you can visit the graveyard with graves from the 1500s or something crazy like that. Where every day, you can see the 9,000+ headstone markers for those lost during the D-Day landings and subsequent battles that eventually brought an end to World War II. The war to end all wars, or so it was called at the time.
We have traveled a lot, having been all over the US, Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada. We’ve been to Europe twice and have another trip planned for the fall. I’ve seen mountains with snow, beaches with black sand, beaches with powder white sand, amazing architectural designs, spooky Confederate graves, swamps with alligators and other creach-tors, cities ablaze in light, dolphins swimming off the Na’Pali coast, and flying fish. I’ve seen so many wonderful and magnificent pieces of art – the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, Winged Victory, mummies, and the like. I’ve been a part of some amazing experiences. I have never, though, been as affected by a place and time as I was that beach in Formigny, France.
I have written about it before, but every Memorial Day, which happens to be just a week prior to D-Day, I remember the way it made me feel. The way that rounding that stone-edged walkway and seeing those graves, as far as my vision would reach, streched out in front of me, made me fall to my knees and sob uncontrollably. I had seen that scene on Saving Private Ryan. I knew that when I was there, in person, I would cry. I knew it, but I wasn’t really prepared for exactly how it affected me and still does to this day. I still remember the feeling of utter devastation, knowing the extreme and personal sacrifices all of those men (and some women) experienced during that period of time, storming the beaches to liberate my beloved France.
There really is nowhere like it on the rest of this Earth, not that I’ve found anyway. So many other places like that have been commercialized, used for profit, and built upon in order to reconstruct the real lives that were going on before the battles began. Not there. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, France, and it takes about 3 1/2 hours by car from Paris. I drove it myself, circling the Arc de Triomphe twice before we decided into which street to exit. We passed fields of corn, small hills, rivers, streams, towns, and history. We saw cows near Formigny, hanging out in their fields eating grass. I even mooed at them, saying “Le Moooooo”, hoping my French cowspeak was better than my French humanspeak.
Upon arrival into Formigny, we drove to the American Cemetery. A very somber place, it is filled with artifacts from the war. There is no gift shop. We watched a film which starred a native Jonesboro man who was killed in the war. Small world, as I lived in Jonesboro for about 9 years in my 20s.
We left the visitor’s center and entered the walking path, stones guarding the sidewalk from the break down to the beach, which is wide and sandy. We walked aroung the corner, and my husband had to catch me when I started to fall, me imagining what it would have been like to live back in that time period, knowing my sweetie would go to war and have little chance of coming back alive.
As I stepped out of my tennis shoes onto the sand in the very cold English Channel, I felt the lifeblood of all those there. I imagined the water a murky red with their spilled blood. I imagined the beach, with its fortifications, the boats driving up the pouding surf to the beachhead, and the Germans hiding in their bunkers. Me, part German myself, felt a little ill just thinking that some of my very own relatives may have caused all the pain and agony of WWII. I was determined, however, to place my feet in that sand and feel that cold water on my toes, no matter what. I felt like I had to. Not only because I’d driven all this way, but because I wanted to experience what they did. To experience a little pain in the hopes of freedom.
The people of France have never forgotten what the American forces did for them that day and those coming weeks. They have celebrations every year to honor the veterans, albeit the few of them remaining alive at this time and date. They do not forget.
Neither will I. Ever. This haunting experience is something I wish everyone could experience, but then, again, I know that some people won’t appreciate the experience, either. That, to me, is sad. So many have gone before us. So many will come after us. It is our duty to honor and remember and maintain this place for future generations.