Today, the beaches of Normandy are calm. If you walk these shores on a summer's day, all you might hear is the laughter of children playing on the sand, or the cry of seagulls overhead, or perhaps the ringing of a distant church bell -- the simple sounds of freedom barely breaking the silence -- peaceful silence, ordinary silence.
But June 6th, 1944 was the least ordinary day of the 20th century. On that chilled dawn, these beaches echoed with the sounds of staccato gunfire, the roar of aircraft, the thunder of bombardment. And through the wind and the waves came the soldiers, out of their landing craft and into the water, away from their youth and toward a savage place many of them would sadly never leave.
William J. Clinton
President of the United States
June 6, 1994
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Music: Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings
NORMANDY BEACHHEAD, June 12, 1944
By the time we got here the beaches had been taken and the fighting had moved a couple of miles inland. All that remained on the beach were some sniper and artillery fire and an occasional startling blast of a mine geysering brown sand into the air...
That, plus a gigantic and pitiful litter of wreckage along miles of the shore line. Submerged tanks and upturned boats and burned trucks and shell-shattered jeeps and the sad little personal belongings strewn forever on these bitter sands...
That, plus bodies of soldiers lying in rows covered with blankets, the toes of their shoes sticking up in a line as though on drill. And other uncollected bodies still sprawling grotesquely in the sand or half-hidden by high grass behind the beach...
Now that it is over, it seems to me a pure miracle we ever took the beach at all.
Ernie Pyle, for "Stars and Stripes"
NORMANDY BEACHHEAD, June 16, 1944 --
I took a walk along the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France.
It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead.
I walked for a mile and a half along the water's edge of our many-miled invasion beach. You wanted to walk slowly, for the detail on that beach was infinite.
The wreckage was vast and startling. The awful waste and destruction of war, even aside from the loss of human life, has always been one of its outstanding features to those who are in it. Anything and everything is expendable. And we did expend on our beachhead in Normandy during those first few hours.
For a mile out from the beach there were scores of tanks and trucks and boats that you could no longer see, for they were at the bottom of the water--swamped by overloading, or hit by shells, or sunk by mines. Most of their crews were lost.
You could see trucks tipped half over and swamped. You could see partly sunken barges, and the angled-up corners of jeeps, and small landing craft half submerged. And at low tide you could still see those vicious six-pronged iron snares that helped snag and wreck them.
On the beach itself, high and dry, were all kinds of wrecked vehicles. There were tanks that had only just made the beach before being knocked out. There were jeeps that had burned to a dull gray. There were big derricks on caterpillar treads that didn't quite make it. There were half-tracks carrying office equipment that had been made into a shambles by a single shell hit, their interiors still holding their useless equipage of smashed typewriters, telephones, office files.
There were LCTs turned completely upside down, and lying on their backs, and how they got that way I don't know. There were boats stacked on top of each other, their sides caved in, their suspension doors knocked off.
In this shoreline museum of carnage there were abandoned rolls of barbed wire and smashed bulldozers and big stacks of thrown-away lifebelts and piles of shells still waiting to be moved.
In the water floated empty life rafts and soldiers' packs and ration boxes, and mysterious oranges.
On the beach lay snarled rolls of telephone wire and big rolls of steel matting and stacks of broken, rusting rifles.
On the beach lay, expended, sufficient men and mechanism for a small war.
They were gone forever now.
"...We come to this hallowed place that speaks, more than anything else, in silence.
Here on this quiet plateau, on this small piece of American soil, we honor those who gave their lives for us 50 crowded years ago."
June 6, 1994
We are the sons and daughters you saved from tyranny's reach."