A few years ago we were fortunate enough to do a cruise of the British Isles and the last stop was La Havre, France which is near enough to Normandy that we didn't have to think about any other excursion. It was a twelve hour day with an informative guide and lots of emotions.
There aren't really any words to describe the feeling of the place. But my experience was profound in ways I didn't expect. Beaches famous for fierce fighting and massive loss of life are now strewn with running children spending the day by the sea with sunbathing parents. Photos of beautiful landscapes marred by barbed wire. A carousel at the site of more heroic deeds and loss of life.
Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach on D-Day)
At Normandy American Cemetery
Omaha Beach. The tour buses are lined up and tourists, mostly of a certain age visit the site and read the memorials. Pictures are taken, with no one exactly sure whether or not it is appropriate to smile in them. It seems like a sacred place.
Then just beyond where you see that stone monument, there are steps going down to the beach. It took me by surprise to see these happy French families enjoying a holiday, children running and playing, parents laughing, sunning. I stood on the steps and looked up at older tourists, mostly American, pointing and discussing the historical significance of the place. I looked down and saw what could easily have been any beach in the world. I wondered what those men who died here would think of that. I could imagine that they might tell us that was exactly what they'd fought here for. After all what better memorial could there be than those free French children? I couldn't help but think that if they are aware of it, it would surely make them smile.
The following pictures are taken in and around the machine gun nest at Pointe du Hoc:
Everything about it makes it feel like what was accomplished here was an impossible task.