With Remembrance Day approaching, I decided to take the opportunity to go on a day trip to Omaha beach, one of the landing sites of D-Day.
Several students were interested in going so we all went together. Our first stop was to Caen, with its world famous World War II exhibit. The memorial showcases a huge statue based off the famous V-J Day in Times Square photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Inside the museum is a huge collection of war memorabilia guiding visitors from the years before WWII up until the Allied victory.
Not far from Caen are the northern beaches of Normandy. One of the most famous ones, which was codenamed Omaha, was where many of the American troops landed, and where we stopped to visit.
The beach looked like any other sandy beach I had seen before. It stretched a long ways on either side and was held in by two jutting cliffs, like bookends on a shelf. Although it was November, I kicked off my shoes and stepped in with my bare feet.
The water was cold but it made my mind sharp. I didn’t care much that my chiffon skirt was becoming heavier and wetter with each waved that passed me. I carried my flats in my hand as I walked out further from the shore, further into the English Channel and further from my physical sense of being. All the history classes, the film screenings, the fuzzy black and white photos I had studied in university, all of a sudden they didn’t seem real. They didn’t seem to be depicting the same place I was standing now. I turned around and looked back to the shore. This was the view the soldiers would have had that morning that they landed. Today there was a little girl giggling as she was being chased around the beach by her mother. A man threw a stick to his dog. He fetched it and returned and so the scene repeated. My fellow classmates were complaining about the cold. How could such tranquility and mirth arise from such atrocity? I looked at the sand dunes, the cliffs and thought of the machine guns, the mines. I looked down into the water and saw a small, round stone, smooth from years of tumbling in the currents of these waves. I picked it up and turned it over in my hand. Was this stone here, larger and rougher, when the beaches ran as red as the jasper it was made of? Maybe.
I turned back to face the ocean. The tide was coming in; it waits for no one. It had reached my knees already, but I didn’t really notice. So bleak, so cold…so unwelcoming it must have been for those soldiers who arrived here. The blue sky mixed in with the blue water to make a blue horizon that didn’t seem to be bound by any limitations. Someone was calling my name. We had to return to Paris now. I kept the stone still in my hand and slowly made my way back to the shores again. My skin tingled as it touched the warm air and I suddenly realized how cold and numb my legs had been. But watching my peers make their signature selfie faces and post the pictures online with all the hashtags and emoticons they could link with Omaha beach, I realized that my numbness was temporary, but their numbness was far more permanent.