I was working in London during June, 1984, when the opportunity came up to visit the battlegrounds at Normandy. I met up with Steve Smith, a former co-worker at Disney, and we basically decided to go over to France on the spur of the moment. The news was full of stories about the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of D-Day, but we decided to take our chances and see if we could get a place to stay. Luckily things worked out and we had a great weekend.
It was really an amazing moment when I set foot on Omaha Beach. You can watch all the movies you want but nothing prepares you for the sensation of realizing that you are standing on the very spot where so many gave so much in the cause of freedom. The beach was quiet and basically empty, with a few strollers walking along the shore. The tranquil nature of the setting ends, though, when you realize how many relics of the war are still there - and when you see a returned veteran struggling to deal with his emotions.
I'm glad that we missed the big celebrations. The visit was more meaningful to me without the parades and speeches by politicians. One thing that was strange - the local residents were extremely friendly and would offer drinks, etc. when they realized we were Americans - even though we were both born well after the war.
This view of Omaha Beach shows how large an expanse the invading soldiers had to cross. It was low tide, and I was surprised to see how rocky the beach was.
Visitors leaving flowers at a memorial at one of the US cemeteries in the Normandy area.
I challenge anyone to look down the long rows of crosses and Jewish stars and not feel insignificant.
A portion of the artificial breakwater that created the famed Mulberry Harbor could still be seen protruding from the water.
The ruins of a German bunker still stood guard over the beach.
The entrance to this bunker is pock-marked by shell damage from the Allied troops.
This massive concrete structure is a German gun emplacement. The guns have long been removed, but the structures haven't changed much in 40 years. I imagine they haven't changed much in the years since I took this picture and will look the same in 100 years more.
Another gun emplacement. Some of these structures never had the guns installed, but the damage shows that the attackers took no chances.
The rusting remnants of a landing craft lie where it stopped 40 years ago on Utah Beach. The poles seen next to it and in the background mark wrecks so they can be located at high tide. As the number of poles show, there is still a lot of history sitting on these beaches.