We got up and headed west in a motorcoach with the best tour guide around to see Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. The weather was beautiful, which was good and bad. It was a much nicer day for us than it was on June 6th 1944. Our guide, Pawel, did a great job of setting the scene for us and providing context. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like sitting in those landing craft waiting to reach shore. The cold weather and rain probably not front in their mind.

Our first stop was Arromanches-les-Bains and the Musee du Debarquement. We got to see some of the remaining caissons from the temporary harbor that was built in the days following D-Day and parts of the breakwater still visible above the tide.

We left the beach to drive to the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The cemetery was sobering. Covering 172 acres and holding the remains of 9,387. Also memorialized are 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign whose remains were not located or identified.

This place is one of the most emotionally moving places that I’ve seen. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery. I looked out from Little Round Top over Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg on a snowy day in February. And I’ve been to Pearl Harbor and seen the memorial over the USS Arizona. They’ve all been unique experiences that have stuck with me but this one seems to cut deeper. Maybe as I get older I develop a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made for our Freedom, or maybe I just struggle to gloss over nearly 10,000 Crosses and Stars of David lined up memorializing the men and women that stepped off those landing craft or jumped out of the transport planes without knowing what fate awaited them. Stepping into the void. How do you explain service and duty?

I wrote the poem below on the ride back to Paris.

Row after row of quiet marble crosses
Stand in a field concealing those many losses
Next to the sea this day painted azure blue
Lie so many that did what they were asked to do
Walking between the graves I can’t help but wonder why
So very many brave men had to die.

 

  • Normandy American Cemetery
  • Normandy American Cemetery
  • So many lives lost, each of these memorials is a person and represents their sacrifice. This one belongs to PFC Nils A. Wennberg.
  • Normandy American Cemetery
  • Normandy American Cemetery
  • Normandy American Cemetery

We’ll start the war from right here.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assistant commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, upon finding that his force had been landed in the wrong place on Utah Beach.

Two kinds of people are staying on this beach—the dead and those who are going to die.

Col. George A. Taylor

Col. George A. Taylor, Commanding the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, on Omaha Beach.