Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 2: D-Day Beaches

Lawd, we actually did a road-trip through France.

When my friends and I rolled up into the rental car place and they asked where we were going and we told them, “Well, we’re going to go Normandie, then Tours, then down to Marseilles, then up to Chamonix, then over to Lyon,” I think the poor gentleman who was doing our paperwork was going to have a heart attack. As Americans, we frequently forget that driving for HOURS to get anywhere is not the norm in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

However, my homies and I have done this kind of travel before. So it wasn’t that big of a deal, however we did not insure the car and we were paranoid wrecks most of the time we were driving so, word of advice? Go for the insurance.

Anyway, once our three beautiful days in Paris were over, we got our rental and left the city. After driving for 3-ish hours and stopping for dinner at a place called Marina’s in the French countryside and speaking broken French to our waitress who spoke broken English and much pantomime and communal laughter, we arrived at our hotel where we passed out only to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the D-Day Beaches.

For my friends who are paranoid like I was about entrance fees and parking: do not worry, there is so cost to drive to the beaches, park, and check it all out. We pulled right up to Omaha beach, parked in a lot, and walked around. The only thing we had to pay for was admission to the Operation Overlord Museum (which was pretty informative and I totally recommend.) There was no admission fee to the American Cemetery.

When we arrived in the morning, there were already people at the beach, sunbathing, swimming, building sand castles, and doing normal beach-things. At first I was deeply unsettled by this, because I was taught in school how many Americans died on that very beach, and it didn’t seem right that people were playing in the same spot where there was so much blood, the ocean turned red.

But, the ground didn’t feel haunted. I’ve been to places where grave atrocities had been committed– Dachau Concentration Camp, World Trade Center Ground Zero, to name a couple– and at those places, everything felt wrong. The energy was off, like the land and air had the horrible memories permanently imprinted into them. But at Omaha beach, those feelings were absent.

And I firmly believe it was because of the children playing and the families relaxing. The people that died on that beach not so many years ago died so that their loved ones and their legacies could have fun on a beach on a sunny August day. Instead of leaving the beach as an empty memorial, it has become a place of enjoyment. The ground holds memories of violence and bloodshed, for sure, but it also has the memory of fun afternoons and laughter.

We walked the entire length of Omaha and ate lunch at a restaurant that had all kinds of D-Day Paraphemalia, such as an Operation Overlord coloring sheet (lol seriously) and I wonderful picture of Eisenhower. In true deo-fashion, I took pictures. Also, brie on pizza is a terrible idea, I do not recommend it.

After our adventure down the beach, we walked all the way back, bought some fruit, and checked out the Overlord Museum and the American Cemetery. The museum was, admittedly, really cool. There were dioramas, maps, figures, historical artifacts, actual tanks, and lots and lots of information. My brain was mush by the end, but I learned so much and had a fun time of it. Well, as much fun as a person can have while learning about a harrowing topic like WWII.

Speaking of harrowing, after the Overlord museum, we visited the cemetery and spent a good chunk of time there, walking among the graves and thinking about the sacrifices made by the brave men and women buried beneath our feet. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, and the cemetery was honestly beautiful. The most emotional part of the day was when someone played Taps. My friend Sean and I just stood there for a long while, listening.

Visiting the Beaches of Normandy was something I had always wanted to do. I grew up as a history buff and read so much about the D-Day Invasion in school that I knew I needed to visit its hallowed grounds one day. Honestly, I never thought I’d get the chance to, that it would be one of those goals that would elude me. It seems like a silly thing to consider as I sit here writing about how I was just there, but the feeling must come from knowing about places of great historical significance and feeling as though they are inaccessible, almost fictional. I’m pleased my friends were willing to visit with me and contemplate the ground we walked on.

Safe travels, and Happy Shooting!