Terra: American Cemetery – Normandy, France
June 6, 1944 – this is a day that changed history. This is the day the allied troops stormed Normandy’s beaches, fighting a battle that would end up being one of their most important victories of World War Two. This victory, however, did not come without any significant loss. I can see that just by looking around me.
Thousands of white marble slabs stand at attention on the grassy field ahead. I wonder what their stories are. What brought them here, to this solemn stretch of field in north western France? What did they leave to come here, in order to meet their fate among so many comrades who now eternally stand at attention?
The only thing that separates one slab from the next aside from the names inscribed on each one, are their shapes. For the most part, the slabs are tall, triumphant crosses. However, every so often, there is a six- pointed star- tall and triumphant just the same, but they stick out. The star slabs stick out like big round targets among the rest.
As enormous as the army of slabs is, it’s only an American one. That is not to say that every American soldier who lost their life on the beaches of Normandy is commemorated here. There were countless other soldiers as well who lost their lives on or near the beaches, none of whom are buried here. Countless Canadians and British as well as Germans and French now bear an appearance very similar to the slabs in front of me. Some of slabs are of rock, some of marble, and some weren’t lucky enough to become slabs.
The American Cemetery, located on the historic Omaha beach was given by France to the American government, and is now officially considered American Soil. Omaha was one of the two beaches invaded by American troops on D-day, the other being Utah beach. Gold and Sword beaches were invaded by the British troops, while Juno was invaded by Canada.
Overlooking the graves from across a still rectangular pool of water is a wingless angel- or is he only a statue? Either way, he is otherworldly, giving the impression of constantly being in motion. The bronze man remains in one place, but he floats this way and that, looking upward, and raising his hands toward the open sky. Beneath the man is a spattering of sculpted waves. There is a large earth toned platform on which this statue stands, and behind him arches a smooth, pillared wall. The statue is entitled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.
My cousin Jaelyn and I head toward the beach together, bundled in our coats to keep warm from the late winter chill. On our way, we pass a wrinkled man, wearing a military jacket laden with patches and pins, cane at hand. Escorting him is a younger, woman with a sleek ponytail shooting from her head- his daughter, probably even his granddaughter. The man has a proud, solemn presence and wears an official looking cap, which makes me wonder. Was he here all those years ago, a young man without a cane to support him, or a granddaughter to escort him? Is this one of the men that I owe so much to?
As we continue on toward the beach, we pass numerous other tourists, cameras glued to their hands, faces frozen in awe and silence. The old man looked different than the rest. His demeanor suggested that this was more like an old familiar place to than somewhere he was visiting on vacation.
In order to get to the beach, you have to walk down a steep path with stairs made of planks of wood and earth. It zigs and zags through cliffs and trees, until finally, you arrive at the beach, which, sad to say, Jaelyn and I never make it to. We follow the path up until a certain point, where it is being swallowed by rainwater. It’s flooded, and although certain members of our travel group, who are ahead of us, have ditched their shoes and started to wade through, the rainwater is where we stop- if we don’t, we’ll never make it back to the bus on time.
By the time we do get on the bus, I can’t stop myself from smiling. Being at the cemetery was a truly breathtaking experience, and it showed me that by visiting foreign countries, you can actually learn a lot more about your own country. When I imagine what it’d be like if I had gotten to the beach, I imagine a formation of white slabs standing tall. I imagine the old man, wearing the cap and the jacket with shiny pins, and a notion comes into my head. The beach itself is not where the history is.
Marcella Del Plato
The LEAF Project
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