Normandy holds a key position in the English speaking history of Western Europe. It was here that Vikings settled to become Normans. It was from here that William, born of a Norman mother launched his attack on England in 1066 establishing essentially a French speaking control of England whose influence lasted for centuries and can still be found today at the root of spellings and over 25000 words in the vocabulary.
It is also home to the Normandy beaches most familiar to Americans as the location of the allied offensive of D-Day, 6 June 1944. Seventy years and n one has forgotten. Not those who live here, not the rapidly depleting pool of veterans who return every year. And not the the consciousness which supports 35 museums, sites and memorials. And not in the military cemeteries dotted across the landscape.
At Point du Hoc rangers climbed the cliffs straight at the enemy guns overhead; 9/35 left to capture the that place long ago named by the Vikings. At Omaha, Utah the US came ashore in waves with the tide coming in, the Brits at Gold, Canadians at Juno, Brits/Free French/Allies at Sword.
I leave little trace on the beach at Omaha as I cross the sand. Not like the soldiers who landed, assaulted, bleed and died here seventy years ago. The sea wall finished in the 1920s for the pleasure of Parisians on a weekend to the beach formed the first goal on clearing landed and the obstacles waiting to pierce, blow, destroy landing craft and men racing bullets and tide.
Started not that long after, the American Cemetery is here on the cliffs, a testimony to the cost of Operation Overlord. American Soldiers, some Allies, captured Germans; their bones interred forever distant from home. In winning they have been left to stand sentinel to guard the freedom so desperately won on this coast. It matters not whether they died in the first few minutes of D-Day or weeks later in hospital from wounds received, there they remain in France’s soil overlooking the beach that saw the blood of so many soaking the sand. It was the last war in which we left our dead behind. Unlike the Brits who were used to wars in remote areas of the global as they fought to expand, develop, maintain and hold their far flung colonial empire. Normal for their military to serve the majority of their careers on foreign soil and to see family buried at that duty station and themselves expect to be buried there.
And so 149 interspersed with the crosses of yours; bullets and mines caring nor for religion or country. The stars disrupting the symmetry of the rows, interrupting the visual lines of infinity
The ropes cordon us off from seeing names, leaving pebbles. I am left wondering how many bones buried between symbols not their own but once again in formation, now for as long as the land stands. Name, rank, unit, and date of death are the details recoded in letters plain carved into white. The personalization of headstones is absent; date of birth, commentary on life and relationships. Just the facts of service which does, in fact, say it all.