Today, on its 70th anniversary, I’m remembering D-Day and my personal experiences in Normandy on a trip of discovery…really, the trip of a lifetime. This is a special post, which is deviating from my normal weekly schedule.
My husband Steve, and son Julian are WWII buffs and had long talked about making this trip, which we took in June 2013. An additional reason for going was personal: Steve’s father was in the British Army and part of the D-Day invasion 3 days after the first landing, known as D-Day-plus-3.
He was one of the lucky ones who survived, but he never spoke about what he saw or experienced, brushing off questions from those who asked. However, after he and my mother-in-law moved to Canada, he became passionately involved in an organization to promote dialog and understanding between Christians and Jews, and was recognized with awards for his contribution.
After having visited Normandy and seen the beaches, descending into surviving enemy and allied bunkers and trenches, we had an awakening of what those young men endured, and it was harrowing.
I have tried to use my most vivid imagination to understand what they went through at the time to pay tribute to the gut-wrenching sacrifices they and their families made.
The memorial at Omaha Beach, the site of the American landing, is enormous and is in proportion to the sheer number of Americans who died, many thousands of whom are buried in the cemetery there.
The displays in the museum are detailed and sobering and if you allow yourself to really forget where you’re sitting as you watch the existing video footage of the landings, you’ll feel the grip of fear deep in your gut and feel your heart race and your breath become ragged with tension, knowing that thousands of young men….boys really, younger than my own…would be slaughtered before their feet even touched the beach. They were massacred.
The memorial sculpture at Juno Beach, which was the Canadian landing site, is artistically interesting, and there’s an intimacy about it that we found profoundly moving, no doubt because we’re Canadian. The visitor’s centre, although small, is full of artifacts and videos which bring the ordeal vividly to life and the tour guides are all bilingual, Canadian exchange students with a passion for the subject which made the reality so immediate.
It was one of the most moving trips I’ve ever taken and one I will never forget. And as a result, on this 70th anniversary of D-day, I’d like to invite you to take a moment and join me in bowing our heads in gratitude to those who, through no fault of their own, were slaughtered for the cause of the freedom that I will never again take for granted.
Another post I wrote about our trip for Remembrance Day on November 11th, which focuses on the WWI battle of Vimy Ridge near the Belgian border can be found here. It was a vicious, bloody battle and a defining moment in Canada’s very young history, which we won. The ground around the site of the Front is still full of un-exploded land mines.
Do you have any personal stories about family who fought in WWII or a visit to Normandy? I’d love it if you would share it in the comments below.