Hundreds of ships hide in the distance, invisible through the fog. Whistling and deafening explosions are all around from bombs and shells landing nearby. I suppress my fear as I watch the allies land on the beach in front of me from my pillbox.
The reality is that I am standing in a damp and cool sixty year old concrete bunker on a beautiful and sunny French day. My imagination, with the help of books and films such as Saving Private Ryan, have taken me back to D-Day as only being on the spot can do. I feel the fear on both sides of the battle, the wondering of how the hell I got into this mess and what I’m really fighting for. My family at home quickly flashes through my mind. Will they miss me? Have a been a good person? Why is this happening to us? Why here? I look at the guys around me. Fear in all of their eyes. Dammit.
The power of being on the spot is fantastic and overwhelming. Granted, it is just another piece of land with few signs of having ever being a battleground. The naked French men strolling on the beach might distract a lesser mind or interrupt their dream sequence, but not me. I can feel the damp of the day even though it is warm. I smell and taste the acrid smoke of gunpowder though the sea air today is fresh and clean. It is 06 June 1944 to me and nothing can break the spell until I am ready to leave it.
World War II is my favorite part of history. I love all parts of it. Why I cannot explain, but it is so. The only other time I have been transported to the past is when I lived in Warsaw. I take no sides of the event. Russia was cruel but also a horrible victim. Ukraine and Poland were decimated. The Jews were slaughtered, though so were many other groups that get much less recognition. Germans civilians were carpet bombed and abused. It wasn’t all their fault either as I can see many countries today falling in the same trap of fear and blaming others for their problems. But I digress.
Normandy Beach is a beautiful and well kept area of France. The beach is hallow and beautiful. Structures non-military are few and far between. The cemetery is perfectly done. There is really not much to be said about the area. If World War II interests you, then spend a day here. Touch the crosses in the cemetery and imagine where that man came from and what his thoughts were that day. Go to the pillboxes overlooking the sea and try to put yourself in that soldiers boots, knowing that today was your last on this earth. Think of your wife, children, brothers, sisters, father and mother and know you will never see them again. Take your shoes off, walk on the beach, and picture boys scared to death as they land where you are walking. Look towards the hill and take in how much open, soft sand there is between you and any bit of cover. If none of this strikes a chord with you, skip Normandy Beach.