On Friday, we took a break from the hustle and bustle of Paris to visit Normandy, and it was truly a moving experience. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial included an extensive exhibit that explored the events surrounding D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. D-Day refers to the day the Allied forces landed in Normandy to drive out the German troops from France during World War II. On June 6, 1944, U.S, British and Canadian divisions landed on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches in what some regard as one of history’s greatest amphibious assaults. The Battle of Normandy would continue for the next three months and resulted in over 10,000 Allied casualties. It was significant in that it not only paved the way for the victory of Allied powers over German troops, it also demonstrated a strong sense of solidarity among the Allied powers, creating a special bond between those nations that is still seen in the international arena today.
The displays in the museum did such a beautiful job capturing the story of D-Day with great detail and honoring those who lost their lives in battle. I tried to use my most vivid imagination to understand what the soldiers went through during that time as well as the sacrifices they and their families made. The thought of young men the age of the guys in our group going into battle with a rifle in hand to fight in a land thousands of miles away from home is something that still continues to astound me.
The most sobering experience for me was when we reached the end of the museum, and there were frames with the faces of several soldiers that were lost/wounded in battle. I felt lingering goosebumps and a knot in my throat as I went through each story, trying to imagine what they went through in those final moments. Afterwards, we made our way to the graves and the memorial featuring the statue of “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”
We spent the rest of our time walking down the shoreline of Omaha Beach. The cool seaside breeze was definitely a nice change from the Parisian heat wave we’d encountered all week. There, we saw families enjoying a day at the beach, with children gleefully running to and from the shoreline and dogs relentlessly chasing seagulls. With July 4th following the next day, I found the trip to be a nice reminder of what our country stands for and an appropriate way to observe our Independence Day while being so far away.