As Remembrance Day was this past weekend, I decided to post some photos I took at the war cemetery above Omaha Beach in France two years ago.
From my journal then:
"Near Omaha Beach, where the Americans landed on France's shore and so many were mowed down, it is tranquil and pretty. A few of the houses near the beach are thatched. An ancient stone church still stands, somehow untouched by the war. Nearby we saw a few pieces of ruined landing craft, but the evidence from June 6th,1944 is scarce. The memorial at Omaha is a low-key stone monument (some people in the group expressed disappointment that it wasn't somehow MORE). The beach is peaceful and sandy.
I tried to imagine the boats landing and the soldiers arriving and the roar of the guns...I tried...but I just couldn't seem to register the tragedy that happened here sixty years ago.
A few children were digging in the sand with pails, and I looked around until I found a small broken seashell. I held some of the fine light sand in my fingers and let the wind blow it away. I felt faintly sad.
The next place I went, the War Cemetery itself, made more of an impression on me, although I still felt far away from the reality of the thousands of graves. The white marble markers --9387 of them--reminded me of sculpture--precise and geometrical and sanitized. Sparkling white against impeccable green.
Manicured trees and shrubs here and there softened the effect. It was quite beautiful in a serenely overwhelming fashion. There was a sprinkling of Stars of David among the Christian crosses.
I read the names and U.S. divisions on some of the graves as I wandered. No birth dates, only the date of death. Most of them from June 1944.
Looking through the pine trees, down over the cliffside by the cemetery, I could look right down onto Omaha Beach where they died. The thought that repeated in my head was "Oh, that June was a BAD month." A few of the dates showed some men made it to July, fewer to August."
While in France Jeff and I made some other World War II historical stops in some little Normandy villages: Port en Bessin-Huppain, where the secret wartime fuel line called PLUTO stopped (Pipe Line Under the Ocean); Sword Beach (where the Canadians landed), Benouville (where the liberating British paratroopers landed--home of the Pegasus Bridge); and Gold Beach where the British came ashore.
At Gold Beach, the old German "pill-boxes" where the German soldiers pointed their gun muzzles seaward were still there. Today you can climb steep metal ladders down into the dank, litter-filled pits they are now. Andrew, the nine-year-old travelling with our group charged happily down into them, but they looked awful to me.
Instead I wandered into a field of yellow canola flowers across from the beach. Much nicer than haunted pits.
This Remembrance Day Jeff and I took my Mom out to lunch. Dad was invited but he decided to stay home--he was feeling very emotional after watching the Veterans ceremony on television. He told me he kept thinking about his father's medals.
I was very lucky to have no one in my family die in the wars.
My mom's father was in the Airforce, patrolling way up north in the Aleutian Islands and my grandfather on my father's side was stationed in Belgium. I learned that some of the china plates treasured from my childhood up in the china-cabinet (like the one with the legend of Pandora's Box on it) were shipped home to my grandmother during the war. How they managed to travel all the way to Canada without breaking we'll never know.
Although no one died, the war changed my family in other ways. My grandfather brought home a war "bride" that was not my grandmother, for instance, and changed her life forever. I never met my grandfather and he left our family when my own father was just a young boy. Very, very sad.
Not a tragedy like someone dying fighting a war, but still sad.