Visitors to Normandy are often struck by its tranquility and its familiarity, its resemblance to our own North Coast, with long stretches of wind-swept beaches interrupted by rocky shoreline and citadel-like cliffs elevating farms and villages high above the sea's frequent tantrums. As with our coastline, visitors there are reminded to bring a coat — and not to turn their back on the ocean.
Visitors, particularly for those who take time to stand among the fields of white crosses and Stars of David that line American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and other memorial sites, also abide another rule of not turning our backs on history.
Or on those who made history happen.
Today, our remembrances are dedicated to the estimated 12,000 Allied troops who died on the beautiful grounds of Normandy 70 years ago — on beaches that are still referred to by such code names as Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno.
For those who take time today to read about, watch and listen to the coverage of the ceremonies marking this seminal event in World War II, the day will be filled with stories — many told by the dwindling few who were there on June 6, 1944 — of the awesome logistical and tactical challenges required of Operation Overlord.
Many will speak of the breathtaking numbers, of the 160,000 troops — transported and aided by some 5,000 warships and 13,000 aircraft — that landed along this 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified coastline, beginning what would be long trek to defeat Nazi Germany.
They will speak of the organization required of the allied nations, including Great Britain, the United States, Canada, free France and Norway, to pull off the largest amphibious invasion in world history.
And they will speak of the obstacles that were overcome, including the strong winds that blew landing craft east of their intended positions, especially at Utah and Omaha, leaving troops to land under crippling enemy fire from heavily fortified positions.
But what truly stirs the heart, our gratitude and our national pride is not so much the massive firepower of an allied army but the raw, inspiring courage of the single man, of each man who saw the impossible task before them — the fortified gun emplacements, the barbed wire, the hail of gunfire, mortars and artillery, the beaches littered with the bodies of their friends — and forged ahead anyway. Some found a way through. Many did not. But because of their bravery and sacrifice, there on the beaches of Normandy, the tide of the war changed. And history changed.
One doesn't have to be in France today to appreciate that fact. You can see it from here.