Our bus pulled into a quiet parking lot. It was overcast and the beach ahead of us wasn't like the ones back in California. It was quiet, with very few people scattered along the shore. They weren't building sand castles or chasing each other into the waves; they were either walking solemnly or staring out into the sea. Being only a freshman in high school, I had no idea of the significance of this beach.
Our leader, Dan, called us all together, and he must have seen the confusion in our eyes. A group of people came from the small buildings along the edge of the parking lot.
â–º SEMI FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
They were all dressed in older-style clothing and they said they were going to perform for us before the flag-raising ceremony on the beach. We watched as they danced to some traditional sounding music. It had a folk feel to it and it was the first time I'd really witnessed a performance like that. When they finished, Dan and a few people from the group led us over in front of this memorial that had 8 flagpoles near it, 4 on each side. They asked for volunteers to raise the flags, and still being a little lost, I volunteered because I knew that once I learned what this was about, I'd feel honored to have had the opportunity to lift a nation's flag in its honor. I got assigned to the Belgian flag. As each country's national anthem played, each respective flag was risen. When the final flag reached the top of the flagpole, the ceremony began.
A man began by telling us that this ceremony was to pay respects to those who had given their lives on this beach on D-Day. I had never really enjoyed learning about wars, but I felt myself become so much more interested as I was standing where such a famous invasion had occurred. As I looked around at the cliffs, there were deep indents and I tried picturing what that day was like for all those soldiers. At the end of the ceremony, a bunch of flowers were left at the memorial. The man that spoke to us gave us all a small bottle to put some sand in. It was something I had always done at the beaches back home, but for some reason, I had a really hard time choosing a spot to gather my sand from. It was all sand, but I felt like it was the most important bottle I'd ever add to my collection.
Our next stop was the American cemetery overlooking the beach. The only way I can describe the feeling of being there was that it felt like a wave of emotions had hit and every step I took felt like there was a huge weight that just wanted me to stop. I've never been somewhere so quiet considering the amount of people that were wandering around. There was a building inside with pictures and stories of some of the soldiers that had lost their lives on the beach right outside. Reading them was sad, but tears started falling when I entered the next room. There was a glass case right in the middle and inside was a gun stuck into the gravel with a soldier's helmet placed on the butt of the gun. I don't know what it was about this display, but it broke me down and I just stood there looking at it for a while before going outside to catch up with the others.
Outside was a true shock. Acres of white headstones spread across the green grass and beyond them was the ocean. It was hard to comprehend such a mass number of graves, especially after considering that the people had all died probably within days of each other. The memorials spread throughout the cemetery were beautiful and seeing our flag above all the people that had lost their lives here was something that has to be seen in person to feel its impact. I walked through a couple of the rows of headstones, reading names and calculating ages. Young or old, my heart felt overwhelmed and yet very proud at the same time. I've always had a lot of respect for our troops, but it was within these moments that I really felt what I'd seen on so many bumper stickers back home: "Proud to be an American.'
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.