I stand on the beach of Colleville –sur-Mer in lower Normandy, France feeling the chill rise from the ocean. The longer I stand upon the same sand that over 2000 men died fighting for, historic stories start to come alive right before my eyes.
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As a junior in high school student, I would never have imagined the opportunity to travel to Europe over the summer through Student Leadership University. Surrounded by the rhythm of the waves, and other students, it was still difficult to wrap my mind around just exactly where we were. Standing there I got the sense that we had all been transported back to one of the most pivotal times in not only European history, but also American. Yet there we were, and there was the calm beach front, along with a family enjoying the sun and sand, as their kids squealed because of the cold water. I even witnessed older men bending to scoop up sand in little vials in order for them to have a personal reminder of World War II.
As students, we would not have had the opportunity to even think of visiting if not for the sacrifice those men made that day for future generations. In history classes you hear the stories of wars fought, and know they are true, yet rarely are you given the chance to see firsthand the sacrifice and the sites where they took place. This realization hit home with me as we traveled on to Point Du Hoc where soldiers climbed the cliffs up to an enemy base camp so as to gain control of the French waterfront. It was beautiful, quiet, and had rolling hills that were covered with flowing grasses and yellow wildflowers, where little sheep grazed. However, those rolling hills that I thought were so peaceful, were in existence because of huge cannons that had fired down upon the men. These hills were actually scars, evidence of the damage done.
Walking along the same paths the men could have taken was eye opening, but it was still hard to comprehend that the same place I was at now, was a war zone seventy years ago. Situated a little beyond the hills stood crumbling stone structures, leftovers of the German invaders. Inside of these constructions, shadows and echoes danced inside almost as if ghosts from that day still dwelled amongst the ruins. These ‘’ghosts’’ stayed with me throughout the trip, as we drove back through the French countryside, away from the water front and on towards the inner city, I still heard the waves and saw the hills.
I traveled along with other SLU students to wonderful cities such as Paris, London, and Oxford. These exciting destinations were amazing to experience, but I could not shake the feeling of the long term influence Normandy had on my life that day. The day I experienced the historical and legendary cliffs where many men, some not much older than myself, risked their lives to save others, that we may stand and live free on the beaches of Normandy.
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