A visit to the beaches of Normandy to view the place where the D-Day landings took place on June 6, 1944 was not in our original plans, but the close proximity of Omaha Beach to our lodgings in Bayeux made it possible. It was just a short drive in the afternoon to the US Military Cemetery, which is situated right alongside the beach.
I guess, like many people, that much of what I knew about these landings had come from the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’, where the first half hour depicts the terrible carnage suffered by US troops under a relentless barrage of fire from German entrenchments along the beach. A visit to the cemetery reveals row upon row upon row of white marble crosses, stretching as far as the eye can see, and revealing the tragic toll the Battle of Normandy took on US forces. There are just short of 10,000 US soldiers buried here, within sight of the waves lapping on the shore of Omaha Beach. The manicured lawns, gardens and monuments are all quite beautiful, and this is a calm, peaceful resting place for those souls who never came home from the beaches of Normandy.
As we walked in silence along the rows of headstones, we reflected on the tragic effects that wars can have, not only on individuals and families, but also on nations. It is patently obvious that all of America must have been deeply wounded by what happened here in Normandy. In about five weeks from now, it will be the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and I imagine many people will visit this place to pay their respects and remember the fallen.
At 5pm, we witnessed the visitors all standing silently as the American flag was lowered. Soon after, a second flag was lowered, this time with a three gun salute. An old man, who appeared to be a veteran, stood by the flagpole as the flag was lowered. He was applauded as he walked away. A few minutes later we saw him and, presumably, his family laying a wreath in front of a marble cross. It must have been a very emotional thing for him to come here and stand before the grave.
At the foot of one white cross we noticed a French and an American flag. The zoom on the camera revealed the name on the cross. Theodore Roosevelt Junior, son of the US President. It was a sad reminder that bullets don’t discriminate. He lost his life in the Battle of Normandy alongside thousands of enlisted men who suffered the same terrible fate.
We’ve witnessed so much sadness as an outcome of war this past week, and had many conversations about the unfathomable impact of so many senseless deaths on the families of the people who went to war. We felt very sad for the people of Belgium and France too, who suffered so much at the hands of foreign aggressors.