I’m sixteen again, in France. My father has been transferred to Paris. But he has war on his mind from his years in the Pacific theater, issues to set free. He needs to see where it all began to end.
So. We’ve taken our little Fiat to Normandy, map in hand, searching out Omaha beach, rolling through the small village of Saint Laurent-Sur-Mer… a quiet little village that gave no hint of what lay down the road.
We now are standing by an appalling German bunker. It’s truly evil, truly ugly, a massive teutonic beast. Ten years after the end of the War, I’m there with my parents, almost shivering from disturbing feelings. Oh yes, sunny day notwithstanding, there was something… bad. It’s clearly a haunted place. We move along to a vantage point looking down a sweeping beach, out across bright noontime seas. Eyes shaded, I squint to penetrate the misty miles, and I imagine I can see across to England. But of course I cannot. The beguiling blue skies that were once dark with allied war planes are clear and benign… the waters that were so thick with attack boats they say you could walk across them all the way to England – are free of all but a carefree white sail here and there. The graveyard, tended carefully by the French, is a sad final home to all those wasted men.
It’s eerie. I turn around, feeling the unrestful presence of invisible thousands. But no one else is there – just us. There are no monuments, memorials hadn’t been constructed back then – it’s only ten years after D Day; Europe has barely begun its giant cleanup.
The beach reaches out on both sides, the waves lap gently. There’s not a hint of the horror that took place here. Yet it’s there, hanging in the atmosphere. We do not disturb the silence with conversation. My parents hold hands, my father’s face more serious than ever I’d seen it before. My mother is praying – she spent a lot of time doing that.
Maybe it helped.
“. . . my father’s face more serious than ever I’d seen it before.” I know that look.
“My mother is praying – she spent a lot of time doing that.” I know that scene.
Very powerful sentence.
I love your writing.
Thank you Dean. Those were moments I’ll never forget.
“I turn around, feeling the unrestful presence of invisible thousands. But no one else is there – just us.”
Perhaps if more us can learn to feel the unrestful presence of invisible thousands littering our past, haunting our living present, we’ll behave a little differently from here forward…
Amen to that. If only.
So poignant. My memories transport me back to what was once called West Berlin, 1975, standing on the streets of downtown Kurfurstendam in front of the remains of a beautiful old cathedral, imagining the terror of a war torn past…then looking past Checkpoint Charlie, where too many were trapped in that war torn past on the other side of the wall. It
was eerily surreal and truly made one so very grateful to be an American!
Powerful words catching your experience, Michelee! Thanks for sharing.
A add a link to a poem I wrote on the topic about 20 years ago or so when traveling in France at the time D-Day was remembered/celebrated there.
At that time also visited the endless cemetery of World War I at Verdun, that inspired another poem: