This is the most powerful place that I have ever stood, and right now it feels particularly poignant to me.
In the early spring of 2013 I accompanied a group of high school students as a chaperone on a school trip to England and France, and the Normandy Coast was on our itinerary midway through. I have had the privilege of traveling to a number of interesting places on several continents.I've been intrigued by Stonehenge, exhilarated by a climb on the Great Wall of China, and awed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. None of those moved me the way this spot did.
It was early April, but it felt like late February. The sun was shining, but the wind was whipping. We had taken a ferry across the channel from Portsmouth in England to Caen in France the day before, arriving late into the night, tired, and ready for sleep. However, knowing that I'd be standing here the next day made me restless. One of my favorite parts of travel is to experience history, and this felt different than other historical travel experiences I've had. Maybe it's because there is only a generation in between me and June 6th, 1944. Maybe it's the idea that my grandfathers, one fighting in the Philippines and one stationed in Paris, were so closely connected to this pivotal event. Whatever it was, I knew the following day would be powerful.
And then we were there, silently taking in the expanse of the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, the white gravestones of so many fallen soldiers spread out across the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, the land still pockmarked with craters caused by naval shelling. It was beyond powerful.
Omaha Beach is connected to the cemetery by a wooden staircase and path that winds down from the top of the bluff and through the dune grass. As you descend It's hard not to immediately sense what it must have been like for those young men to see the coast from the other side and know what they were facing, if that's even possible to imagine. As I stood on this wide stretch of beach looking back and forth, the feeling that WWII troop transports at any time could possibly come rolling up over the whitecaps was tangible to my bones. It would have been easy to blame my moist eyes on the bitterly cold wind blowing in from the Channel, but nobody would have bought it. By myself, silently aware that I could probably never do what had to be done here and in awe of those who did, I cried. I walked the beach and breathed in the brisk, French air, and I realized that the presence of ghosts is really just a place being held tight by a collective memory, bound for as long as history will allow. And in that moment, deeply aware of what true sacrifice really is, I said thank you.