It is low tide and we are standing at the water's edge. It is cold and windy. Behind us, the waves crash in a constant roar. We are looking toward the shore, across a broad beach, flat and empty. A quarter of a mile away, the green line of the grassy sand dunes runs as far as the eye can see, seemingly unbroken. Beyond, there is only sky, the gray steel clouds chasing the wind. On either side, the flat sand beach extends to the horizon and merges with the sky or maybe the sea; we cannot tell, it is all so gray. The scene is desolate and ominous.
It must have looked the same, in the early dawn of June 6, 1944, when the first American soldiers came ashore at the same spot where we are standing. They only knew the place by its code name, Utah Beach. They were a mile to the South of their assigned targets.
We walk back toward the dunes on the wet sand, across shallow puddles of sea water left behind by the receding tide. A narrow gap appears in the line of dunes, flanked by a half-buried German bunker on its right. Then we can discern a machine-gun in its concrete shelter, aimed straight toward us.
The German defenses were light, without heavy artillery, and just a few men with machine guns. Quickly, the Americans reached the dunes, and broke through the narrow gap, barely wide enough for a tank.
We reach the tide line, littered with black dried up algae, scallop and oyster shells. Our feet sink in the soft dry sand, whipped by the wind into wavering strands that seem to glide away to the end of the beach. A commemorative marker stands where the first American soldier fell. On the other side of the dune, we have to ignore the parking lots to imagine the flooded marshland, with the narrow road the only way inland. There are several monuments here now, on top of the German bunkers buried in the sand. A milestone marks the beginning of the Freedom Trail, which maps the advance of the liberators all the way to Paris. An American tank and two blue landing crafts frame the entrance to the museum, with its collection of uniforms, personal effects, and other memorabilia, and where the story of the landing is told in small-scale dioramas.
Realizing he had landed at the wrong place, General Roosevelt immediately decided to continue the operation as planned, the successive waves of landing crafts disembarking their troops onto the beachhead his men had opened.
On the beach, it is hard walking, against the wind, with sand swirling all around.
A mile away, the German bunkers still stand guard at the edge of the beach, arrogant and menacing. The shifting sands have exposed their foundations, and they lean haphazardly. But they are pretty much intact, their dark gun openings gaping toward the beach, their big gray concrete walls barely poked by exploding naval shells.
They were captured quickly, from the rear.
In a field across the dune, Norman cows, in their brown and white robes, graze amidst the remains of several large concrete casemates, oblivious of the past.