A few weeks ago my husband and I took a trip to Europe. While in Paris, we were offered the opportunity to take a tour out to Normandy to go to the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach and the town of Arromanches Sur Mer where the Allies, a few days after June 6, assembled a port and a pier that had been built years before the invasion and shipped over the English Channel in sections. Cool, right?
Not to me. I am ashamed to admit that when my husband first proposed the idea and was told that the bus ride, yes, bus ride, would take 3 1/2 hours EACH WAY, I balked. Then, hearing I’d be part of a 70 person plus tour group, have to eat lunch in a restaurant not of my choosing and with all of my 70 new found friends, I was less than enthused. Actually, I think I responded, “No way. I’m no lemming and there is NO way I’m giving up that much time in Paris to sit on a bus.”
What I didn’t realize was that my husband wasn’t really asking. It was more like he was informing me as a courtesy. The tour was booked and so, at 7:00am, armed with my laptop, with episodes of “The Borgias” downloaded, my cafe au lait and a hunk of delicious french bread, I boarded the “motor coach.” For the next three hours, our German tour guide, (which I thought was sort of odd, although I realize the war ended over 70 years ago) never shut up. I suppose I should’ve paid attention to the ongoing explanation of the French countryside, but thank God for noise reducing headphones and “The Borgias.” After a quick toilet stop (not really quick with 70 people), we made our way to Omaha Beach.
Oh. Well, wow. I didn’t think it would be so beautiful or so sad or so inspiring. Oh. Let’s take a picture. Oh my goodness.
I got a bit teary. I stood in the sand and looked at the memorial. I imagined those boys; those young men, those heroes, filing onto that beach. I thought of my own young sons. My 25 year-old, my 19 year-old. I couldn’t imagine. Yet here I was. It happened. Right here.
Back onto the “motor coach.” We headed to the American Cemetery. We follow the map and the walkways and I think that I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a place so serene and gorgeous. The breeze comes off the sea and the emerald lawn, the perfectly blue sky and the pristine white crosses all lined up perfectly composed provide a starkly shocking, yet beautiful image.
A couple with us, places a flower on a grave. Another couple approaches them. We think they are French. And then they ask, “Are you Americans?” Our friends answer, “Yes, we are.” The French couple steps forward and hugs our friends. “Thank you,” they say. I am mute and on the verge of some pretty serious tears. Thank God for sunglasses.
I placed my flower on a Jewish boy’s grave from NJ, and another on a boy’s who died on Christmas Day.
Back on the “motor coach” we head to Arromanches Sur Mer.
In my preparations to become a history teacher, I learned A LOT of history. I took classes in Russian, Chinese, and American history. Yet, in all of those hours, never did I learn about Arromanches Sur Mer. In all of my studies on WWII, somehow, I had never heard the story of one of the most amazing engineering feats ever recorded.
A few days after the allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, they began to assemble a port. Knowing that the allies would never be able to liberate France without a fully operational supply line, for years they had been building the pieces of a port that they would compile across the English Channel. And they did. And pieces of them were still there. Unreal. Unheard of. Crazy. It was astounding.
We are back on the “motor coach ” and headed back to Paris. We stop at the same place we did on the way for our “toilette” stop. I watch more of “The Borgias.” But, somehow, the ride back is different. Because all of us, the 70 or so on this bus are forever changed. It’s subtle, it’s personal, but it’s there. We have been changed by what we have experienced.
So…next time there’s a 3 1/2 hour bus ride? I’m jumping on. I’m all in. For there must be something life changing at the end of the day. At least there was in France, on a couple of beaches, on a sunny, peaceful day in May.
To those who serve, I, and a “motor coach” full of others, give our sincere thanks. If given the chance, go.
God Bless America.