I looked at my journal from the trip and came across this posting. I shot this image in the American Cemetery in Normandy, where nearly 9,500 soldiers (including 4 women) are buried. The headstone struck me because of the soldier's name, his rank, the day he died, and because of the stone on the Star of David. (A stone on a Jewish grave is a sign that the grave is tended and visited.) After adding a small pebble of my own, I took the shot and moved on.
Sent: Thu, 22 Jul 2004 03:58:12 -0700 (PDT)Subject: France dispatch #3: The beautiful and the horrible
This is probably my last note, since I'll be flying home in a few days.
I spent the past three days in Normandy and Brittany, because I wanted to visit for the 60th anniversary of D-Day and because I REALLY wanted to see Mont St-Michel. The trip was a transformative experience, but I can't imagine that anyone can come away from Normandy unchanged.
The people in Normandy disprove every American stereotype about the French. I found them to be warm and friendly, and enjoyed their hospitality. I spoke French pretty exclusively those three days, and feel confident in my ability to communicate my basic needs. My waiter even tried to set me up with the young man at the table next to me. : )
Monday -- Caen calls itself a martyred city, since bombs pretty much leveled it in WWII. I visited St. Peter's church in the morning and saw photographs of the church in ruins, before it was re-built in the aftermath of the war. There was an exhibition of children's drawings responding to the question "what does peace mean to you?" The images were startling and I'll share them once I'm home and have put them online.
The Peace Memorial was amazing. It is the best war museum I've ever seen. The most impactful moment was reading the handwritten letters of G.I.'s who never made it home. I ended up missing my train by minutes, but considered it to be serendipity, because I wanted to stay and see the D-Day beaches the next day. That evening, I wandered the city and found myself in a Monoprix (the French equivalent of Target plus a grocery store) before heading to a small restaurant for an inexpensive but excellent meal and some Norman cider.
Tuesday--At 9 a.m., I took a bus to Arromanches, where British engineers built an artificial harbor that supplied Western Europe until Berlin fell. The remains of the huge concrete floaters are still there, and it was ironic to see children storming the beaches and swimming around the concrete. I also watched a film in the 360° cinema that combined archival footage with present-day shots. I got goosebumps when I saw a firefight in a square that morphed into the Monoprix where I'd been the night before. We got back on the bus and saw various sites, including the gun turrets that the Army rangers destroyed after climbing a cliff the Nazis had thought invulnerable. When we arrived at the American Cemetery, I saw miles of crosses and Stars of David. Nearly 9,500 soldiers (including 4 women) are buried there. It was overwhelming and after spending two days in Normandy, I feel that I finally understand the horrible sacrifice made by the Greatest Generation.