The Last Airborne

By Nathan Bolls on June 14, 2019

   Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day: the huge, costly, and ultimately successful allied land assault on Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Although mere words never can even remotely capture what happened that fateful day on Omaha Beach, I want to share a powerful experience that Imogene and I once had there.

   One morning in July 1990, my dear late wife, Imogene, and I stood on the 100- foot-high cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. Even with a week in Paris (our favorite city) and ten days in our beloved Ireland ahead of us, we assumed this moment would be the emotional highpoint of this trip.

   In the spring we had felt the urge for another trip to Europe in general, and Paris in particular. We had toyed with visiting the newly reunited Berlin, but that came in second to touring Brittany and Normandy.

   After renting a car at Charles de Gaulle Airport we headed west. We would return for a week in Paris (our third-and next to last-visit) before flying to Dublin. Another rental car would take us west to rendezvous with long-time dear friends, Sharon and Kent Smith. After touring the West of Ireland, Imogene and I would return home, and Sharon and Kent would continue on to England’s Lake District. Peaceful all.

   Both Imogene and I had left home with bad sinus bouts, but we holed up in a Brittany ocean side hotel to heal while watching French families on holiday along the beach below our hotel window. Right off we always found a good patisserie. We swear by the medicinal power of good spice-free European A recount of remembrance and solitude at Omaha Beach pastries.

   Feeling better, we toured the Brittany and Normandy countrysides, beaches and villages, and the Bayeux tapestry. Some beaches were crowded with people, some still held the reinforced concrete bunkers with their large caliber, rapid-fire guns aimed to strafe the beach. Several times we ended our day by watching the sun set behind Mont St. Michelle. We saved Omaha Beach until last.

   We looked out over the huge and immaculately maintained U. S. Cemetery above Omaha Beach. Finally, we turned to study the beach and the narrow sand spit that ran parallel to the beach for some 150 yards, creating a lagoon some fifty feet wide between spit and beach. We wished to descend the long concrete stairs and walk the sand spit, but it was occupied. In a place such as this, deference to personal space and solitude is understood.

   We watched a tall thin woman, dressed in black. Being 100 feet higher and some 75 yards distant, and seeing only her back, we guessed her to be 50- ish in age, maybe older. She walked slowly, stopping every few steps to look down at something held with both hands. Letter? Photograph? Telegram from the government? Father? Uncle? Brother?

   We so wanted to know, maybe to console. But, she surely was deep within herself, where she needed to be. She had not come all this way to visit, but to try and sense something of what this beach had seen that June day 46 years ago, to sense something of the Hell her loved one had met and, probably, not survived. We too were burdened with wanting to recapture a sense of the destruction, the desperation, the fear,