We spent the weekend in Caen, France. We arrived via overnight ferry on the English Channel that led us to the beaches of France the following morning. This seemed like it would just be a cool experience, but it turned out to be much more meaningful than I expected. The first day in Caen, we visited the Memorial de Caen. It featured bunkers, museums, and memorial gardens regarding D-Day. As we walked through the memorial, I still felt as if I was rocking on a boat- little flashes of dizziness would hit every now and then, reminiscent of our overnight voyage. It only bothered me that first day, but it passed by that evening. The next day, we visited Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery in Normandy, Pointe du Hoc, St. Mere Eglise, and the German Cemetery. We walked along Omaha Beach and then hiked up the hills to the lookout where Germans would’ve been stationed. As I stood on the beach, my breath caught in my throat. There is truly nothing like standing in the surf on this beach, the very spot where so many of our own countrymen fell for the last time. As we turned to hike up the cliff, it was the first time I noticed how steep, heavily vegetated, and slippery the hill was. I got nervous about the ability of all of us to make it to the top. As I climbed, I thought about my dizziness the day before. I had only been on a ship for a few hours, and I was reeling for a full day. These men had been on ships for much longer and were facing something much bigger. It was harrowing to stand on the hilltop and admire the expanse of beaches and history around me. Similarly, we visited another lookout spot at Pointe du Hoc. This is the only location that is exactly as it was on D-Day. The landscape tells the story of June 6 so well- you can’t take a step or look in any direction without seeing numerous craters in the land around you. The D-Day bombings were never so real nor clearer to me than standing among the battered landscape overlooking the sea.
Obviously throughout these excursions I was fully aware I was in France, but there were many times where the locations felt so steeped in American memory I almost felt at home. There was a level of comfort I found at Omaha that I haven’t felt since I left the states. The echoes of the “greatest generation” seemed to hang in the air. While this nostalgia was strong, I also geographically conceptualized myself for the first time since I almost mistook my surroundings as the states. I realized just how far from home, my family, and everything I knew I really was. I have a new understanding and appreciation for the people who were part of this incredible piece of history.