Me standing on a stone walkway on Omaha Beach, looking into the distance and trying to imagine what the seas looked like on June 6, 1944.

Me standing on a stone walkway on Omaha Beach, looking into the distance and trying to imagine what the seas looked like on June 6, 1944.

While my study abroad trip was in Normandy, we visited Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and Pont-du-Hoc. It was quite an experience. For one thing, except for the memorials at Utah Beach to fallen soldiers and the museum next to the memorials, each beach looked like an ordinary beach. You had to really look for vestiges of the war that had raged on the sands nearly 70 years ago. Whether it was the structure in the water meant to obstruct the D-Day boats, or the preserved (I assume preserved) anti-aircraft gun standing on a pedestal, or the set of stairs leading up to a bunker in the mountain, there were hints at what had happened there.

It was really weird. You stand there, and you’d think it was just an ordinary beach. It’s hard to believe that the things that happened there really happened. I wonder how it was for the veterans who were still alive and able to make the trip to the commemoration ceremonies (like this badass Ohio former paratrooper), to come back to the beaches all these years later and seeing bare vestiges of the war left. Must have been disorientating, to say the least.

At Pont-du-Hoc though, you could totally hear the echoes of the past. Pont-du-Hoc, if I remember correctly, is not too far from Omaha Beach. Scattered all throughout the area are rubble, the remains of German bunkers and weapons, and dozens of craters, varying in size from six feet across to twenty feet across or more. Don’t even get me started on how deep those things went! I was scared to go down into the deeper ones lest I be unable to get out again without assistance.


My friend David Corrigan in one of the deeper pits. This one was maybe twenty feet deep and twenty-five across. It was quite the shock to see it for the first time.

It was easier there to get an idea of what the war was like. You could see evidence in the craters, from the huge blocks of concrete, and from the gun pits and passageways, that war had been waged in this area. And what an area it was! You get the impression from movies and TV shows that a battle, no matter the size of the army, is maybe contained to a place the size of a football field. Pont-du-Hoc was probably several football fields long and wide. It really redefined my belief on what a battle was like.

And when I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the sounds of the battle, echoing across the stream of time from seventy years ago. And I was awed by it all, by the magnitude of what had happened and the horrors the soldiers must’ve witnessed in the spots I stood on. It was so hard to fathom. Thank God I have a writer’s imagination, which made it a little easier, but what I saw in my mind’s eye was probably nothing like it really was back then.

Now, veterans, their families, and world dignitaries such as Obama and Putin and so many others are there to remember the fallen and the battles waged just as I did a few weeks before. It’s right that they should, because it was D-Day and Operation Overlord which began the destruction of the Nazi regime and helped to free so many people from the horrors of fascism and racism. And while technically it was the Soviets who really ended Nazi Germany’s reign of terror, D-Day had a large role in ending it as well. D-Day and everything after.

Me in an anti-aircraft gun pit. Trust me, I had to struggle to get in there.

Me in an anti-aircraft gun pit. Trust me, I had to struggle to get in there.

And I’m so glad I’m at least able to contribute something, even if it’s only some musings and a couple of memories and photos, to the celebrations and commemorations. I’m so happy to say that I was there and that I have more knowledge than I did of the invasion on this auspicious day. And I’m happy that I was able to reach back across time like that and get some sense, even if it was just a small one, of what happened on those beaches and in the surrounding countryside.

Thanks to all those who served in the war, who helped to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, and who still today serve to protect the ideals of freedom and peace. It’s all because of you that I’m able to write this. And I and so many others will never forget it.

  1. vinnieh says:

    Amazing photos and fantastic post.

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