I have been wrestling with how to approach the experience I had today for the past two hours. Half of me would like to take lightly the utter lack of control I felt, yet I would like to try to impart the complete awe I felt today walking on the soil on which over 10,000 Americans were killed on June 6th, 1944.

If you’ve been following my writing, you will have noticed a trend with my experiences in France thus far. This culture is steeped in history that happened just 70 years ago with the invasion of Germany, the liberation by the Allied Forces and the rebuilding of the cities after V-E Day (Victory in Europe officially observed on May 8th, 1945). Therefore, it’s not hard to wonder why I wanted to see the D-Day Beaches and experience the awe of standing on history.

The day started off cloudless and as sunny as Normandy hardly sees. Such days are few and far between here! The quick train ride to Bayeux was uneventful, quiet and relaxing. Laura, Danielle and I got our bus tickets to bring us directly to the beaches and spent the next half-hour trying to understand the scheduling of said bus. Fairly confident, we boarded “Line 70 Bus Vert” and pointed in the direction of Omaha Beach, the beach where so many liberators were killed in pursuit of freeing the French people from German control.

We sat in the back of the bus, and I almost got completely car sick. True to form, me+twisty tiny roads+stopping and starting and halting and screeching=extreme nausea and near vomiting. But I prevailed! and LO! there was a sign that pointed to the right and said, “OMAHA BEACH –>” I reasoned there wasn’t any clearer way to indicate direction than such a sign, and I pushed the stop button on the bus, shakily making my way to the curb. I sat there with my head in my hands and willed the waves of nausea to subside.

A few minutes later, the three of us walked to a sketchy little “museum” and inquired as to the direction of the beaches. The man indicated that the beaches were “just to the left of” the church, so that’s where we went. We followed our noses into the hedgerows where I found myself in the midst of what the American, Canadian, British and Free French solders had to overcome.

The forest is thick and green and lush. All the trees are draped with English Ivy and mosses. The ground was moist and smelled like organic wonderfulness. I couldn’t help but inhale deeply and feel like I was breathing in history. I realized with sudden clarity why the terrain was so difficult to conquer for the Allies. You cannot dominate an enemy who lurks in the trees!

Hedgerows very near Omaha Beach.

Well, to make a long story short, we hiked into the hedgerows, got lost, hiked out of the hedgerows and got back on the right path to…. where our bus was SUPPOSED to drop us off. The vista we found at this point was breathtaking. As though out of nowhere, there was ocean. I walked in silence, unable to properly formulate the words I wanted to say. The wind was downright cold and blowing so violently that I had to wonder what June 6th, 1944 really was like.

Omaha Beach

The men who sacrificed their lives on the beach that day crossed the English Channel, cold, wet, miserable, seasick and above all else, scared. After all, these “beaches” aren’t all sand and sun. The men had to scale sheer rock faces, take out the German occupied beaches and disable the German weapons in order to push back the Axis forces. They knew they were on a suicide mission. When you look across the vista of Omaha Beach, the overwhelming sense of pride for one’s countryman is undeniable. I had to fight tears.

We soaked in the information of the beautiful American Cemetery Memorial Museum and the all-sobering American Cemetery. Over 9,000 Americans are buried on Omaha Beach (about 1,000 having been exhumed and moved to plots in the United States in 1956). The sight fills you with such awe and reverence that silence isn’t a chore but rather a privilege. I cannot properly explain in writing the amazement I felt at regarding the beauty of such self-sacrifice and how real the horror of impending doom seemed to linger in the air. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so much pride as I did today while I stood on the shores of the English Channel and looked over the 9,000 white crosses glittering in the sunshine.

The Grave of an Unknown American Soldier

After so much somber reflection, it was inevitable that the rest of the day turned into a comedy of errors. I decided to ask the very helpful, sweet looking woman working in the Memorial when our “Bus Vert” was supposed to arrive. I still wasn’t too sure about the time-table and didn’t care to sleep on the beach that night. She graciously understood my broken French and responded slowly and sadly. Alas, “Bus Vert” would not be arriving at all that night… or for the rest of the month for that matter! With much head-scratching and confusion on how we actually managed to arrive at the museum, we called a taxi, got back to Bayeux 32 € poorer and boarded a train destined for….the wrong city.

Ah yes. Those tricky time tables again. It turns out that some people (ahem, Danielle) are directionally challenged, and we got on a train headed WEST instead of EAST. When the conductor came to punch our tickets, he looked at me (of course it was me!) and asked in French, “Where are you going?” I replied that I was going back to Caen, my home, and he shook his head with a bemused look on his face and said, “Nope, you’re going the wrong way.” I whipped my head around and fired Danielle as Navigator for the rest of her life. I then apologized profusely while he graciously told us how to get back to Caen.

An hour later, we rolled into the correct city, exhausted, wind-burned, poorer than expected and full of emotions some of us didn’t realize existed. To say the very least, it was an unbelievable day, one that won’t be repeated for awhile. The following are a few of the pictures that were taken during the day. I hope you can appreciate the sacrifice our servicemen made and the honor they deserve.

If you’d like to learn more about the D-Day Beaches, click here.

If you’d like to learn about Omaha Beach, click here and indicate the English Language option by selecting the British Flag in left hand corner.

To find more information on the beautiful Memorial Museum on Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, click here.

Beautiful Heather in the Cemetery

Long May She Wave

If you look closely, you can see the English Channel in the distance beyond the tombstones.

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