Normandy Impressions

Working my way through an unplanned cold and watching Private Ryan, the movie, my mind drifts back to a trip we made to France. As I had already composed it’s as a Query and was not used, it’ seasier to reprint it here than to put new words together. The impressions are the same. I hope it is not redundant for anyone.

“Thanks for everything,” it read – Brussels, Belgium. Then another, “We owe you so much,” Florence, Italy. A lump in my throat. My eyes were getting moist. It was then it hit me. This war was not just something that happened over there. It was here and people from all over the world had come to pay respect. The list went on. “Thank you for coming,” Lithuania. Entries in the registration book, from places I had never imagined, people were pouring out their feelings for the thousands of soldiers that sacrificed and a country.

We were at the American Cemetery in Normandy, had almost by-passed it on this visit to Europe that year. Almost fifty years had passed since then and my only memory was that of an infant getting a bath one night in my home in Buffalo, NY. I recall hearing the sirens as my mother hastily pulled down the shades – an air raid drill. At that time for some reason I thought cardboard boxes were being dropped in practice – some strange image carried with me until now.

Now the images were changing. A short time before this morning, we were at a high cliff overlooking the English Channel. It was an idea I had a few days earlier in Bayou, France one of the first cities to be liberated. We would go to Port-en-Bessin to photograph the sunrise. We had arrived while all was still in darkness and carried our equipment up the steep embankment to wait. Collar turned up and gloves on, the first faint light of predawn over the dark water a hundred feet below stretched for endless miles. On the other side was England and the white cliffs of Dover. I knew that; but, somehow it was strange being here in this quiet, except for the occasional “swish, swish” of the waves on the shore below.

Small flowers were now apparent, at my feet, all around me, as the light grew. A pleasant place. I looked behind me. The rays of light on a white church steeple, and hint of this small town. I wondered how it might have been those fifty years before – before “all hell broke loose,” as they say. Then my eyes fell lower to the ground again, a hole encased with cement – a German Fox hole. I could almost imagine two helmets with dark eyes and a machine gun. A chill went through me…

That was fifteen year ago. This evening, we sip a cold beer at Nick & Nates in Sylva, NC. Next to me an older man had made room for us as he drew in some papers spread out on the bar. We exchange greeting and I learn he is a professor of Economics at the nearby College. We talk and it turns to travel and experiences. He has not been to Normandy and I relate my experience there and the Registration book at the American cemetery. He is moved and tears well up in his eyes. He tells me how much it means to hear that others cared — for so many years he had been misinformed, that it was a thankless sacrifice…


  1. Bob,

    Thanks for that lovely piece. When Pam and I were in Normandy a year or so ago, on the day that the tour planned to visit the American Cemetery, I was ill and missed out on that experience. Through your piece, I felt as though I had been there.

    Louis >


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