Tuesday, November 11, 2014

lest we forget.

I have long had a fascination for the World War II era - everything about that time, from the music, fashion, design, and of course, the war itself, has for some reason always been very compelling to me.  Not surprisingly then, Saving Private Ryan is one of my all time favourite movies - and I swore that one day, I would visit the American Cemetery that is so prominently featured in the beginning and closing scenes of that amazing movie:

From Saving Private Ryan (Source)
In April 2012, we spent a week in France, and finally had the privilege to visit the Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer. I was fully expecting to be moved by our visit here - I just wasn't expecting just HOW emotional I would actually become upon entering the grounds of this sobering site.  At the moment we entered the hallowed grounds of the cemetery, and caught first sight of the vast ocean of pristine white crosses and stars of David against the immaculately manicured lawn, a bell tolled...my eyes spontaneously welled up - and I burst into tears - that were, truthfully, very difficult to suppress.  One of the most moving moments of my life, really.

Although I am aware of the history of this site, to imagine that every one of these endless rows of tombstones represents a loss of life on the beaches below is simply overwhelming...

We later walked all the way down to the very beach where the landing craft came ashore on June 6, 1944 - difficult to imagine that this was the site of such carnage really not that many years ago - the beach, and the cemetery, are now beautiful, peaceful memorials honoring the brave young soldiers who lie on the cliffs above, forever together.

Omaha Beach, April 2012
While in Normandy, we also took the time to visit Juno Beach, in Courseulles-sur-Mer, France - the "Canadian" site of the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.  The location houses the Juno Beach Centre, a fantastic museum commemorating the history of the site, detailing Canada's partcipation in the events of that historic day: 

Juno Beach Centre, Normandy
We were even able to locate a commemorative brick on the Memorial Kiosks at Juno Beach, dedicated to a close friend's father, who participated in the landings:

While perhaps not as grand a memorial as the American Cemetery and Memorial, a visit to Juno Beach is no less poignant, perhaps even more so, due to the ghostly reminders of history that whisper through the scrubby seagrass along the ruddy north France coastline...

Juno Beach, April 2012
I will always look back on visiting this historic part of the world with reverence and gratitude - while of course beautiful to view today, this is no ordinary coastal landscape - the Normandy Beaches will forever be synonymous with the sacrifice of the many who gave their lives to ensure we enjoy the freedoms we do today.  Our visit to Normandy was an indelible reminder of their sacrifice - indeed, they, and those that came before and after them, should never be forgotten.

"Remembrance and Renewal", by Colin Gibson

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