Seen from your living room, the beaches of Normandy seem like something that exists only in movies like Saving Private Ryan or the HBO television series Band of Brothers. Staring at your computer screen, you can see the images of the invasion through the pictures taken by Robert Capa. It is distant. It is dark and grey. There is death and blood wherever you look. Boys barely out of high school are instantly transformed into men as they storm the beach. It is glorified, ugly and unreal. The heroic tales of Omaha Beach echo through your mind.
However, despite the war filled, frightful images we are used to seeing, Omaha Beach is beautiful. It seemed wrong for it to be so tranquil. The wind blows with a force that almost pushes you. The sky is a bright, clear blue and the ocean pushes the tide in at a slow, rhythmic pace. You want to smile, but you can’t. Smiling doesn’t seem acceptable on Omaha Beach. Laughing is sinful.
The reality of what took place there almost 64 years ago sets in, and it feels wrong to show any sort of emotion that doesn’t have to do with pride or mourning. In the back of your mind you know that almost 64 years ago the sand was covered with blood. Now the sand is scattered with seashells. It’s peaceful. It’s hard to imagine that this beach was once overwhelmed with death and destruction. It’s hard to imagine what was at stake and what was lost. It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude and importance of an Allied victory.
I felt like I shouldn’t be standing on the beach. It seemed like I was defiling a grave. It was as if my footsteps were not worthy of stepping where so many had their final ones. However, it makes one proud to be an American to stand on that beach. One can’t help but be grateful to the men who gave their lives to defend freedom. It’s hard to imagine what was at stake in World War II.
It is hard not to become overwhelmed with emotion on the beaches of Normandy. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to be on the boats, seasick and sleep deprived. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to see your fellow Americans charge off the boat, only to be shot and killed by German bullets as soon as their feet touched the beach, or even before. The realization sets in that you might not see the soil of your home country again. That you might die in France. The uncertainty of victory and fear of death would be overwhelming.
Looking back at World War II it is easy for people to say that if the Germans had changed their strategy slightly they would have won the war. It is easy to say that if the Allies had not been lucky at a certain point in the war, they might not have won. But in reality, they did not know how the war would turn out.
At many points the future was as unclear as is it is right now in the War on Terror. Although both wars were started under completely different circumstances, had different amounts of support and were decades apart from each other, the simple truth remains that in both wars no one at the time knew what would happen. Being in Normandy and on Omaha Beach makes one grateful that the Allies succeeded in winning despite the uncertainty.
It makes one grateful to be one of the relatively few people able to call themselves a citizen of the United States of America. It makes one realize that the only reason that privilege is possible is because the soldiers of the United States defended freedom on Omaha Beach that day and gave their lives.