The Day the World was Saved.

D-Day. June 6, 2014 will mark the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Landing and the Liberation of Europe.

It’s not something to ‘celebrate’ really, is it? But it’s certainly worth reflecting and honoring those who did no less than save the world from tyranny. We indeed “won.” But at what cost?

I’ll be honest, it was a difficult concept to grasp for me as a young student. It was a war, in the past, that lots of nations joined together to fight and it ended horrendously. Unlike many my age, I didn’t have relatives telling me stories of war, so it was all but irrelevant to my young mind. Well, age really does bring wisdom. And the relevance of WWII was made even clearer on my recent visit to Normandy, France with a student delegation from People to People.

Caen-Normandy Memorial Centre for History and Peace

Outside the Caen-Normandy Memorial Centre for History and Peace, there are stones engraved with various statements of reflection from the Allies. “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s order to his troops on D-Day. While reading the sentiments, I felt they really were from the entirety of each Allie’s population, not just from their leaders.

Resisting the Naziz 101

People to People arranged for a presentation to the students discussing the hardships of the resistance. There were items actually used during the war for students to handle and explore.

Wandering the museum helps bring the event into perspective even more. But the video presentation, showing actual war footage (mixed with some Hollywood renditions) with no dialogue, depicting both sides of battle just a few days prior to D-day… and ending with the dramatic contrast of how the beaches look today, without thousands of troops battling each other… hit me hard. It was amazing. It’s hard to explain, but it was so well done, and if you don’t grasp the enormity of those events after watching that film, I’m not sure you can.

I was quite surprised at how much the museum affected me. But there was more to come. We traveled on to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Though we were a bit hurried by our local tour guide, I could not ignore the importance and the sudden weight of the memorial settling on my shoulders. After the students participated in a wreath laying ceremony, the entire grounds ceased to move, as our national anthem was played. It was an extremely emotional experience, to hear that anthem, and witness the respect from all present, on foreign soil and in such a solemn place. Powerful. If you ever want to truly understand a war, if that’s even possible, visit the war memorials of other countries. See how they pay tribute to their heroes.

For me, the most powerful image I captured on the trip. It still raises the hairs on my neck.

People to People is expanding the program and time spent in Normandy for 2014 for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Student delegates will participate in a service program helping clean the marble crosses, write letters of gratitude to be displayed at the memorial, and help with the flag unfurling or furling during their visit. The wreath laying ceremony will continue as well, but students will also make individual flower placements on graves of soldiers they will research. Having had the emotional impact of the memorial hit me as an adult, I can only imagine how much such a program would have affected me as a teen.

It was a pleasure traveling with this great group of students.

DadLabs was not compensated for this post. While travel was provided to me, Concretin Nik, this is my story and my opinion.