In 2003 I had the privilege of visiting Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. I wrote this narrative poem about my experience there, and I would like to share it in honor of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. My poem is also in memory of American patriots who lost their lives there in service to their country. And for those who survived that day and are still with us today, God bless you for your service!
Normandy, Omaha Beach 2003
I stand on sacred ground.
All around me is silence,
save the endless tidal flow
of salty, gray waves and foam
sweeping in across the sandy vista
before rushing back to the depths.
Day after day, year after year, they
appear to wash away all signs of history,
as if to cleanse and bring healing in their wake,
though in scattered places
chunks of rusted metal
rise above the water's surface,
defying us to forget.
The sky is dark with low, slate-colored clouds.
The air is cold; it permeates my jacket
and chills my skin.
If I listen to the waves,
I may hear the din, the fray,
the anguished voices
drowned, not so much by water ̶
though some were drowned beneath the waves,
silenced forever, still wearing
their heavy gear and metal weaponry ̶
but the voices of those whose youthful dreams
were met with heavy gunfire and explosions.
Heroes who reached the shore in a hail of bullets,
patriots dreaming of home and family
yet offering their lives to a greater cause
despite the uncertainty of lives cut short,
who dared to stand against a relentless foe.
I imagine I can hear the shouts, the orders,
the sounds of boots crunching on the sand
wet with saltwater and warm blood.
The sounds of guns fighting back against
unknown faces of strangers lying in wait,
strangers who hated their enemy
though they had never met.
Humanity against humanity,
young men against young men,
running across the sand
into the teeth of artillery,
into the face of their destiny.
I linger in silence, listening.
Perhaps if I am still enough,
I might hear echoes of desperate
voices, fighting to survive,
lifting their sorrow-filled prayers.
But, no, I am standing on sacred soil.
My visit to this land
comes many years after.
To hear their desperate voices
would be to intrude.
To listen to the private anguish
of dying young men
who laid down their lives
for their country's freedom
would be my own invasion.
I stoop down, scoop up a bit
of wet sand, and pour it into
a plastic bag. No messiness.
It will fit neatly in my suitcase
with my socks and souvenirs.
I decide to pick up a random
pebble lying on the beach.
It will rest with my sand
in a glass bottle on a shelf
when I return home.
The sand will remind me
of the shifting tides,
the vagaries of life,
but the pebble—
the pebble will remind me
of the constancy
and bravery of the human spirit,
of those who stood firm
against the menace of the enemy,
against their own fears of mortality.
I slip my bag of sand into my purse.
I push my cold hand into my pocket.
I hold the smooth pebble in my fingers
and feel its weight drop into the fabric.
I must not listen for the voices.
They would be a burden too great to bear.
I will return to my home across the
waters of the Atlantic soon enough.
I look around me once again
to gaze at the quiet ocean shore
that once was not so quiet at all.
As I walk away from this sacred place,
I hear only one voice—
a low, whispering voice.
It is mine.
It is a prayer of thanksgiving.
Carroll S. Taylor