One of the main reasons for us leaving the UK for Paris was a strong desire of Jim and Will and my dad to go to Normandie (no I'm not spelling it wrong that is how they spell it in France and seeing how its IN France I will spell it the way they do) and visit the American Cemetery there.
Arriving at the train station my sifa used her French to try to get us train tickets to Normandie. We learned that you cannot take a train to Normandie. You take a train to a town outside of Normandie called
There were several things about his excursion that struck me as odd. First of all, something as important as the
It is about a 30 minute 'bus adventure' from the train station to the cemetery itself. The people offering transportation tours to the site speak very limited English and accept cash only. Interesting that this important piece of history seems to be so untouched by capitalism for lack of a better phrase.
Between my sister and me, we were able to awkwardly purchase 6 tickets for the next bus leaving for the cemetery. For 6 of us we were given 3 tickets. One had to be punched 4 times and the other had to be punched 2 times and the 3rd one not at all. Then on the return trip, one of the tickets was punched 5 times while the other had to be punched once. WTF?? I still can't get my head around that one. I honestly think the bus driver was screwing with us, but the tickets were cheap, we were 6 of 12 people on the entire bus and we set off right away.
The town that surrounds the cemetery is called ST.-LAURENT-SUR-MER. It is a very quaint little place that is separated from
Currently the site has a single one room building at the entrance to the cemetery. Inside it you can pick up a single sheet, copy machine printed pamphlet in one of 5 languages that tells about the site. Or you can ask questions from a lady that sits at the desk. That's pretty much it. Soon there will be a visitor center and café that will be located next to the newly completed restrooms.
As of right now, there is no place to eat or even purchase water. I am torn about this because A-we couldn't find anything to eat for about 11 hours, when we did it was vending machine snacks at the train station and water bottles we had carried with us and B-it would break my heart to go back there in 2 years and see some jack-hole selling white cross magnets along with $23 disposable cameras. Is it possible to have a non touristy tourist site? I honestly just wanted a sandwich for my diabetic hubby. The all stainless steel potty was a nice bonus but we were really hungry. There are no places to eat near the site itself either. And when I say near I mean like within 4-5 miles. Oh, well when we go back there will be a beautiful cafe there, I'm sure.
The site itself is very beautifully maintained. As much as it is represented that the French hate us- they are extremely grateful for our efforts during the war and the cemetery is pristine. I guess there are many local schools who take regular field trips just to place flowers on the grave sites. After leaving the lady in the small building you exit to your left toward the main entrance to the cemetery. You enter past a simple sign on the right.
Yes, that's the least we can do.
You enter down a row of trees
that open onto the reflecting pool and you are drawn to the right where huge maps spell out the campaign year by year by year in surreal details. All of the maps are on huge beautiful marble pieces with bright enamel details. You can stare for hours and the enormity of it all simply stunts you.
You keep walking down toward the left and through the trees you see the ocean.
You could be standing at
After standing there as long as I could, I took some deep breaths and moved toward the endless sea of white crosses and Stars of David. And they were endless. Simply endless. You just kept walking and they just kept going. I tried not to look but you just have to. Each of them had names and regiments, death dates and states.
It's overwhelming to think just how many people died there in that very short period. Some towns don't have as many people as lost their lives on that beach. Most of the death dates were those few days in early June 1944 but some weren't until the fall of that year and some even later. I wondered about the exact circumstances of their deaths, where and how. As I walked passed each I couldn't help but think about those they left behind.
The life experiences they never got to have. They were so very young. Did they have wives and children? Did some of these men have children they never met? How many days until the parents found out their sons weren't coming home? The details of dying in war overwhelmed me and I am grateful to not have first hand knowledge.
I also thought about how no battle in Iraq could ever or would ever compare to the bloodiness of that time back in 1944, but how the human element is so similar- The families who cannot be together for birthdays and holidays and the families who will never be whole again.
I think of what incredible sacrifices were made and continue to be made daily. I wish I could make it all go away for those whose lives have been devastated by war. But life's not like that. There are those who rise up and see something beyond themselves, who make significant sacrifices everyday and those who make that one ultimate sacrifice for their country.
So today with powerful memories of Normandie fresh in my mind, to them and all of those who made their sacrifices more recently, in a time where it seems less and less popular to do so and our society seems more and more self centered than country centered, I just wanted to say that you are remembered, today and always. And even though it hardly seems enough, thank you.