I suppose I was expecting a portentous and foreboding place. But the first thing that strikes you about Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast is the beauty of the shoreline. It looks like a holiday beach—wide swaths of golden sand, sparkling water, seabirds playing at the shore break. In another life, one that is exempt from the history we are all so familiar with, the coast here would be marketed as a playmaker’s paradise, a quick getaway destination for lovers of sun and sand. And yet, there is no way to extricate it, beautiful though it may be, from the war maneuvers that took place here over sixty years ago. This is sacred ground.
As a child in the United States you learn about D-Day and Normandy practically by osmosis. I cannot recall a time when I did not have at least a vague sense of what Normandy means to a U.S. citizen. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I walked the sands there this morning. Trepidation because one feels pressure to give the visit the import and sanctity it requires, despite being surrounded by people on horseback riding up and down the beach and runners in jogging shorts getting their morning exercise. As we stood in the morning sunshine, a light wind curling around us, Dr. Cathy Gorn, Executive Director of National History Day, reminded us what she tells students when she takes them to Normandy. It may seem sacrilegious to see the everyday activities happening on the beach, she said. But we must remember that freedom to do those everyday activities is what our troops sacrificed their lives for. This thought made me feel infinitely better about my visit and my first impressions about the sheer beauty of the place—I am just one small speck in the human universe, but Normandy can be mine to extricate meaning from, just as it can everyone who visits.
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