June 6, 1944

 Today is the 69th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. 

Until last summer, this day didn't mean much to me, other than one more date I learned in history classes in school. I always liked history (thank you, parents), but I had such a hard time accepting the reality of war that I had to brush it off before it hit me too hard - I don't do well with violence. We learned about all this fighting and ugliness that happened years ago on another continent, and it is so easy to stay disconnected - until you go there yourself.

At the Caen Memorial

It's impossible to ignore the history of WWII when living in Normandy. It's everywhere - not just in France, but all over Europe. Especially in Normandy though, there is so much to absorb about D-Day.  I got a chance to visit the Pegasus Bridge Memorial, the American WWII cemetery, and the Caen Memorial - which actually goes through WWI to the present. But actually being there was more powerful than anything.

I walked across the original Pegasus Bridge, where the first minutes of the D-Day invasion took place.

I stood over Omaha Beach and looked up and down the coast at the other landing beaches.

I walked through the crosses and Stars of David in the American cemetery.

This tiny glimpse of the war was overwhelming and it's still shaking me a year later. I'm still processing it, it's still heavy, and I know I'll never fully grasp the reality of it all, but I'm connected to it more than I was before.

The British 6th Airborne Division fought at Pegasus Bridge

Even though I didn't want to look at the gruesome photos in the museums or read the staggering statistics from the war, I knew I had to. I didn't want to take the easy way out and ignore it or distract myself - I wanted to respect the sacrifice made all those years ago and offer my own salute to the soldiers and the countries involved. I didn't care how hard it was for me to look, it was infinitely more difficult for them, and I needed to acknowledge that.

As much as I enjoy history, I didn't visit these places entirely for myself - that was only the tiniest of reasons. I looked and listened and learned and cried for them: for those who had to face it, for those who survived, and most importantly for those who didn't. I payed attention because this history is part of our history and if we don't stop to acknowledge it and say "thank you," then we might forget.

"Nous n'oublions pas, nous n'oublierons jamais, la dette d'infinie gratitude que nous avons contractée envers ceux qui ont tout donne pour notre libération."
-René Coty, president of the Republic of France

We don't forget, we could never forget, the debt of infinite gratitude that we have toward those who gave everything for our liberation.

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