I couldn’t do it.
I only have a tenuous link to D-Day, in the same way that everyone from the UK does; I grew up knowing about it, knowing the areas near where I grew up that ware part of the buildup of troops, knowing the story about Churchill and Eisenhower getting together for a war council at a local pub.
But as far as I know no one in my family was involved in it. My grandfather was either in Canada, finishing up his alpine warfare training, or in Sicily or Italy, having already started up into the ‘soft underbelly,’ and about two months away from losing a leg. There’s no family stories of bravery, or near misses, or of loss from that day, so I’ve never really made a concerted effort to go to Normandy and see the beaches.
That’s not really why I was even here this time around. A couple of free days, I thought why not go look at the Bayeux tapestry, see one of the primary contemporary sources for something I’ve been learning about for a while now. Call it research, pretend you’re not there for the cidre and the galettes.
But the tapestry, while it’s 70 metres long and the second longest tapestry in the world, only takes about a half hour to see. So I thought I’d go look at some D-Day stuff, because hey, it’s nearby, and I probably won’t come up here again.
I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t ride across the channel in an oversized metal bathtub, the taste of salt water and the smell of vomit and fear, then struggle up a beach as bullets fly past (if you’re lucky) your head, lugging so much equipment. I couldn’t stay calm while friends die, some still in their teens, all too young.
Nothing but respect for those that did it, 75 years ago. It’s a humbling thing, to see the guns that were pointed at them, the obstacles they overcame and know they did it for you. For us. For the idea that Fascism is bad, that people shouldn’t be rounded up and put into camps because they’re different, that freedom is a possibility if we fight hard enough for it.
I’m lucky I don’t need to do it. I don’t need to run into the guns, through the water, up the sand, over the cliffs. Other people did that for me. But I need to remember what they died for, and make the most of the opportunities they preserved, and remember that people can be better than politicians that divide us to the point that storming the beaches seems necessary.