Something had drawn me to Normandy, France for several years. I never understood why. I just knew I had to be there. When I planned the trip, anticipation had to be pushed aside. Trying to imagine what I would feel and sense when I saw Omaha Beach, Ponite du Hoc and the American Cemetery was futile. In fact, nothing could have adequately prepared this 57 year old who has never seen war for what he saw.
I am honored to be working with UNC-TV to tell the stories of World War II veterans from North Carolina. To do so, I knew I had to at least walk on some of the same soil. Listen to the waves of the same English Channel. Talk with descendants of those whose lives were preserved.
When one walks into the American Cemetery at Normandy, the silence is deafening. A sea gull from the English Channel may be chirping, muffled voices quietly talking in the distance occasionally break the silence. Most often the silence is ended by someone’s sniffle and muted crying. The angst within me was heartfelt as I began to walk among the more than 9,000 white crosses. The area is manicured. Clean. Respectful. Beautiful. Peaceful. Overwhelming. And a solid reminder of how much I take for granted by those who gave everything they had.
Next, Omaha Beach. This is the spot where thousands of American troops came ashore D-Day. June 6th 1944. Today families and children play in the sand. Because so many died on this sand 6/6/44..all of us can walk and play, and simply enjoy life. Monuments mark the beach to remind everyone of history.
Then to Pointe du Hoc. The cliffs. The giant cliffs. The question echoed by everyone I spoke with….”How did they do it? With a backpack, weapon, wet uniform from the cold Channel, soggy socks and boots, bullets flying all around them, their friends and comrades dying right beside them, HOW DID THEY CLIMB THOSE CLIFFS?”
When they did, they were met with machine gun fire from giant concrete bunkers.
Again, “how did they do this?”
I don’t know how. But I will forever be grateful they did.