I had seen it all before.
The mangled remains of the German batteries above Utah Beach. The somber, never-ending rows of the American cemetery at Angoville-au-Plain and the solemn open space of its German counterpart at La Cambe. And who could forget the sprawling expanse of Omaha Beach at low tide – once dyed in blood, yet now bathed in peaceful solitude.
In 2016, I got to explore the Normandy area of France, site of the Allied landing operations of June 6, 1944, for the first time. To this day the largest amphibious invasion to ever take place, the remains of what is popularly known as D-Day are still profound and very much out in the open. I found the place fascinating, if somber, very atmospheric and ethereally beautiful – hardly the obvious backdrop for tragedy and unimaginable bloodshed.
Something was missing, however.
It was a detail, perhaps an inconsequential one, but to me, for some reason, it seemed to matter. For on this trip, in the usual attempt to cover a multitude of destination on a single itinerary, I was forced to leave Normandy before the big day. June 6th, the actual day of the invasion, brings about lavish parades, hordes of reenactors and the recreation of such feats as parachuting out of C-47 aircraft – the original paratrooper carriers from the D-Day operations.
It bothered me – I wanted to be there for the historic, big date. Additionally, I felt that the experience might be different if I visited the sites on a momentous occasion – say a big anniversary of the landings.
…to Summer 2019. In an attempt to correct for the omission of that first trip, Nikolay and myself headed to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the allied landings ad the invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.
This time, we would stay for June 6th, and what’s more, we would then head to nearby Belgium, to visit the Walloon towns of Bastogne and Foy, through which the Allies would continue their drive toward Nazi Germany in 1944 and 1945. Time permitting, nearby Luxembourg, with its magnificent nature and its own share of war history, beckoned, as well.
How has the march of time changed the places that witnessed Europe’s momentous, and not-too-distant history?