Visiting Normandy, specifically Omaha Beach, is the part of the trip I have been looking forward to the most. My grandfather fought on Omaha Beach and in Normandy. He is the reason why I have always had an interest in World War II. He is the reason why D-Day has fascinated and interested me since I was very young. To walk on the beach that he, along with thousands of other men, fought on, was chilling.
Thousands of young men, many younger than me, risked their lives while storming the beach. To stand where they fought and died was a truly humbling and surreal experience. It was difficult to imagine what Omaha Beach must have been like on the morning of June 6, 1944. When I looked out over the beach, it hit me as to just how vulnerable the soldiers were. There was so much distance between the water’s edge and any sort of protection. With the Channel at their backs and facing enemy fire, they had nowhere to hide and nowhere to run to. They had to rally together and push forward
Standing at the top of the beach, looking down, I struggled to imagine what the Germans must have been thinking when they woke up on that Tuesday morning and looked out over the channel to see hundreds of ships that had not been there the night before. I wonder how they felt. I imagine they were terrified. They had to know a large battle was coming. It can be hard to commiserate with the German soldiers because they were our enemy, but they were also people though. They had families and jobs that they had to leave behind. While I do not believe in the cause they were fighting for, I still feel sorry for them. So many of their lives were cut short, leaving widows, children without fathers, and parents without sons.
After visiting Omaha Beach, we went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial to pay our respects to the fallen soldiers, including twelve Ohio State students, alumni, and staff who are buried there. I, along with my classmates, placed Ohio State flags at each of the twelve graves. As I knelt down to place the flag, I thought about how similar I am to these men. I am the same age as many of the American soldiers were during the war. They had dreams and hopes for their futures. They had parents, siblings, girlfriends, and friends who they loved. They had jobs, school, hobbies, and responsibilities. They left all of this behind when duty called, and they left all of it behind when they made the ultimate sacrifice.
Looking out over the well-manicured, green lawn of the cemetery, I saw row after row of headstones. I did not fully grasp the magnitude of destruction and death caused by the war. The cemetery is the final resting place for 9,387 soldiers. Chills went through my body as I stood there, taking it all in. These men sacrificed their lives for future generations.
Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial made me feel proud but sad. Standing on the sands that thousands died to seize back from the Nazis, I was proud of my grandfather, proud of his generation, and proud of the USA. I was also thankful for the sacrifices made by so many men, thankful that more did not die, and thankful that the soldiers who died on D-Day did not die in vain.