Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Charlie of the 79th

Charlie stood in front of the map on the wall. The wall was tall, and the map extended from the ground all the way up. There were others there, too, craning their necks to take in the depicted movements of forces across Normandy. But around Charlie, there stood a group of people whose backs were to the map and whose faces were right on him.

Tell us where you landed, Charlie, said a younger man standing several feet away in front of the rest filming Charlie with a video recorder.

Charlie pointed to the map. There, he said. And the faces of the men and women around him turned to look.

He told them about their advance in a quiet voice. He told them how many men they lost.

How many? asked the man with the camera. How many percent? he asked in a voice clearly intended for a future audience.

Fifty percent, Charlie said. We lost fifty percent of our men.

At that moment, music started to play from somewhere behind us in the cemetery. At first most of the people ignored it, because it was a fairly poor recording of some sort and the bells it played sounded woefully out of tune. But gradually more and more people turned around, and the talking in front of the maps ceased, and a group of students laid some simple flowers at the foot of the memorial sculpture.

The music finished. And a sound like gunshots rang out from the recording. And then a trumpet. And then taps.

When I looked around, Charlie and his entourage were nowhere to be seen.

Trip to France - Day 6
D-Day Beaches, American Cemetery

9:11:07 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

What Must They Think

I wonder what the men must think who come to this beach where they fought so hard for their lives and for freedom sixty years ago. Those men who still can come.

I wonder what they must think of the carousel on the beach. Of the colorful souvenir stands and cafes with tables and chairs inviting vacationers to have something to drink or eat. Of the boys and girls horsing around and eating with great commotion.

I wonder what they must think as they sit quietly on the benches with their wives beside them. With their whispered comments to each other. With their gray hair and wrinkled faces. With their memories from so long ago of something so much more important than the carousel and souvenir stands and noise and commotion that I wonder what it all makes them think.

Trip to France - Day 6
D-Day Beaches, Arromanche

8:56:19 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  


Abandoning all our previous plans, today we rented a car and drove to the Normandy beaches. The cobalt blue Renault Megane was a pleasure to drive, and the Normandy countryside thru which we came was even more pleasant.

It was easy to find Arromanche. The maps were clear, and it was not even 40 kilometers from Bauyeux. We drove around the tiny town once looking for a place to park, and then when we found it walked down to the beach and sat down immediately to eat the lunch that we (in a fit of thinking ahead) had bought from our favorite sandwich shop down the street from our hotel.

We sit for a while, eating, talking, watching the people walk by. Then Trudy speaks.

This sandwich is so filling! she says.

She is silent for a moment and then speaks again.

But I am going to finish it.

Of course, by the time she makes this announcement, Ben's and mine have long since been finished, the evidence long thrown into a garbage can. For once it was nice not to have to search for a place to eat.

The sun is overhead. The sky is blue. The beach is mostly empty. To the west, the waterline juts out into the water. To the east, the grassy slopes on top of the hill are almost all that is left of the bunkers that sat there 60 years ago overlooking Arromanche, overlooking the water. Here on the wall above the beach, we sit between a class of French school children and five elderly women.

The kids are eating their lunch and having numerous conversations as they form and reform into big masses of loudness and little cliques of secrecy. They take pictures of each other. They jump up and down. Their teachers tell them not to stand on the wall.

The ladies are sitting on a bench. Their dresses are subdued. Their faces are calm. Their husbands are nowhere to be seen. They talk quietly. They periodically gaze up the beach to the east where the wreck of the D-Day landing is still visible far out into the water.

Sixty years ago, it wasn't quite like this. We know it. That is why we came here. The ladies know it. Certainly, that is why they are here, too. I wonder what the children think.

Trip to France - Day 6
D-Day Beaches, Arromanche

7:36:18 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []