Thursday, June 4, 2015

Traveling with History: A Normandy Reflection

By Rosemary Ahonen

(Rosemary Ahonen teaches AP Psychology, World History, and U.S. History at Ola High School in McDonough Georgia.  She is the 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year for Ola High.) 

Exactly one year ago, my family and I were standing on the beaches in Normandy, France and joining in the 70th anniversary remembrance of the D-Day invasion. We toured the beaches, roamed around rusting land bridges and compared wartime photos to the current peaceful landscape of the French countryside. With families enjoying the beach by building sandcastles, having picnics and playing in the water, it was difficult to think of these serene beaches as the site of an Allied invasion. However, as my family began to walk on the beaches and read the markers to commemorate the landing, there was a solemnness that came over us. We did not speak to each other but rather we meandered, lingered and reflected independently as we tried to process the history surrounding us.

Our tour ended at the American Cemetery. Here the history became all too real. The endless white grave markers reminded us of the immense sacrifice that the endless white beaches represented. Row after row. When we arrived at the cemetery, the burial grounds were roped off with a rope about 2 feet from the ground. We were told that we could not go into the burial area because they were keeping the grass neat and clean for the dignitaries that were to arrive on June 6th. The people on our tour looked at each other in stunned silence and then proceeded to step over the rope. One man on our tour said, “It is my cemetery and I did not come all this way to not pay my proper respects to my fallen grandfather from behind a rope.” All total, approximately 50 people, my family and I included, stepped over the rope that day and no one said a word to stop us. Everyone seemed to agree that we had a right to be there. Despite the blatant disrespect for the “rope rule,” no one was disrespectful of the fallen. People walked in silence and many teared up as we walked among the markers.

When we were done paying our respects, we stepped back over the rope and continued down the path to the museum area. At the museum, we learned that there was a disproportional amount of officers to enlisted men buried at Normandy because the families were given the option of having the bodies of their loved ones shipped back to the States and that the families of the officers decided to leave their loved ones at Normandy stating that they knew the officers would want to be with their men.

Our day ended and we boarded our bus and headed for the city of Caen to spend the night. Our tour group ate supper together at a local restaurant that evening. We all sat down in silence and then one of the people on our tour said, “What a day.” This comment was all that was needed for a conversation explosion as everyone began to share their thoughts and emotions.

As we sat and listened and shared in the day’s reflections we were reminded of why we love history. Normandy helped to reinforce that behind every event there are people that helped to shape the world.   For us, history is not limited to the pages in a book but instead history is alive and well in our shared experiences. The more places we go, the more we learn and the more experiences we share the more we grow not only as a family but as human beings.

No comments:

Post a Comment