Walking the Sacred Sand of D-Day’s Omaha Beach
As a history buff, one of my lifetime travel goals was to visit the D-Day landing beaches.
Fortunately, in August of 2012 that goal was realized when my husband and I toured the Normandy region of France.
For two nights we stayed at the Hotel du Casino situated directly on the Omaha beachfront. Its prime location was the only reason we had chosen this small, rundown hotel built in the early 1950’s.
However, adding a touch of authenticity to the historic location was a long handwritten letter from General Eisenhower displayed in the reception area. During his first post-war visit to the D-Day beaches and years before he was president, Eisenhower had dined at the hotel's restaurant and was friends with the owners.
Taking advantage of our room's location, early one morning I stuck my camera out the bathroom window and took this photo of quiet, deserted Obama beach.
The prominent concrete structure is a National Guard Memorial commemorating where U.S. forces suffered their greatest number of casualties immortalized in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
Omaha Beach may look peaceful now, but on June 6, 1944 a major German defensive position occupied this very spot raining hell upon thousands of young American men, many of whom were seeing combat for the first time.
Within the first 24 hours of the invasion the Allies fought and won control of 50 miles of coastline divided into five landing sectors named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. But victory came at a high price for it is estimated that 2,500 Americans along with 3,000 Allied troops died on D-Day and thousands more were wounded.
Hotel du Casino also has the distinction of sitting on the Mulberry Harbour beach landing. The “Mulberries” were two portable harbours quickly built by the British immediately after the June 6 invasion to off-load an endless train of heavy equipment from the supply ships and to remove casualties from battle.
From our hotel we walked about a half mile east to the middle of Omaha Beach and were stunned by what looked like deadly machetes’ protruding from the sand.
The name of this huge metal memorial sculpture is Les Braves and the sculptor was a Frenchman named Anilore Banon. It was commissioned by the French government and dedicated in 2004 at the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
I guessed that it was supposed to be uncomfortable to look at, for I assumed it symbolized all the horrific death and destruction of the “longest day.” However, both my husband and I thought it was seriously awful, totally out of place and disrupted the now peaceful beach.
According to sculptor Anilore Banon here is the meaning of his masterpiece:
The Wings of Hope: So that the spirit which carried these men on 6th June 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to change the future.
Rise of Freedom: So that the example of those who rose up against barbarity helps us remain standing strong against all forms on inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity: So that the surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On 6th June 1944, these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.
We were left wondering why there wasn't a more visually satisfying beach sculpture to convey those same thoughts. But who are we to judge the French!
The emotional highlight of our visit was walking on Omaha Beach knowing with each step an American or Allied soldier had either died or was wounded. These thoughts haunted us as we walked.
Then over a week ago, totally out of the blue, a friend sent me this news piece from the U.K. Daily Mail. It was about a September 23, 2013 International Peace Day event where participants hand etched 9,000 life-sized silhouettes into the sand of the D-Day landing beaches. That 9,000 number represented both Allied and German forces killed on June 6, 1944.
My friend Susan who sent me the article (a great American patriot by the way) had no idea I was planning on writing this D-Day piece and was unaware that we had ever visited the Normandy beaches.
So here, courtesy of the Daily Mail, is an artistic representation of what was inside the heads of both my husband and me while walking on Omaha Beach in August of 2012.
Every American who walks on this sacred sand is awestruck and eternally grateful for those who planned, led, participated and died in what is today the 70th anniversary of history’s largest and greatest seaborne invasion that forever changed the world. Let us never forget!