Written by Noemi Pollack on May 28, 2012.
Last week I walked on Omaha beach, on the coast of Normandy, France and Memorial Day will never again be the same for me.
As I looked over a precipice at Omaha Beach, the specter of what took place on June 6, 1944 — 65 years ago this year, came alive. An eerie silence filled the air and it seemed fitting. For just a moment in time, in my mind’s eye, I felt that I was there, a witness of that day, on D-Day, and through it, I experienced the terror, heard the roar of the heavy bombardment of the Atlantic wall fortifications, felt the land tremble as the massive movement of the special armored vehicles moved forward, and watched in horror as a battle-hardened enemy persisted to fight for its life against the mightiest military force that had ever been gathered in history.
I could see the quiet approach of the paratroopers as they started their slow glide down to land, before their lives would change all together. I became that very first soldier, Dawson who, upon stepping off the first amphibious carrier that landed on the sand dunes, was instantly struck down before reaching the beach. I became the 1,465 young men who died within the first five minutes of the massive assault, never knowing the role they would play in history.
Earlier in the day, I had walked into a Nazi bunker, which jolted my very being. Its voluminous concrete and steel fortifications, proved indestructible, even for the powerful Allied Air Force. It stands today, as it was then, the structure whole, only now it is surrounded by wild growing brush and weeds that threaten to camouflage it. Nazi bunkers still dot a major portion of the Normandy coastline today, standing intact as symbols of a day that changed the world forever.
And, in the museum at Omaha Beach, there are countless newsreels of the invasion, voice recordings of General Eisenhower and Field Marshall Montgomery as they struggled with their decision, and personal photos of soldiers as they forged ahead into a seemingly insurmountable onslaught of enemy fire.
While the museum captures the history, the cemetery captures the overwhelming price that was paid. As I walked through the stillness of the cemetery, a sudden ferocious wind swept over the tens of thousands of graves and I shuddered at the coldness of it all.
Memorial Day needs to be more than just family gatherings, picnics, weekend holidays, etc.
It needs to be just what it says – a day to remember and a day to be with those who had the valor and courage to give up their own future, so that others could have a future — in liberty.
What have we learnt from it all?