D-Day: 70 years | personal

I enjoy reading about history, and have always loved to travel. It’s one thing to hear about D-Day, or to see the Robert Capa’s handful of blurry images that survived. It’s another to be in the movie theatre to see Saving Private Ryan. But I’m the kind of person who always wants to go there and experience it. So, while studying in Angers, France during my junior year at Belmont, I took a trip up to Normandy to feel the sand between my toes, and see the beaches that were stormed, and the cliffs that were scaled. I wanted to see where so many had fought and died to gain a foothold in the mainland, and turn the tide of World War II.

General Eisenhower encouraged his troops with a message, finishing with: “the eyes of the world are upon you.” The bravery and sacrifice of those men who stormed the beaches is incomprehensible, considering the rough seas, barbed wire, the obstacles, mines, barricades, and the unrelenting machine-gun fire from atop the cliffs.

I mentioned Robert Capa earlier, and that only a handful of the images survived. The ones that did are slightly blurry. Capa used Contax II rangefinder cameras, and shot 4 rolls of 35mm film. Back at the lab in the UK, an over-eager lab assistant turned up the heat in the negative-drying cabinet, and literally melted the emulsion off 3 1/2 rolls of film. The only surviving images have a blurriness caused by the slippage of the emulsion layer.

I took a different camera with me; borrowing my school’s Hasselblad 501c and an 80mm lens. One of my photography instructors taught me how to load the camera. I asked him how he was so familiar with it, and he smiled beneath his large handle-bar mustache. He had borrowed this exact Hasselblad to use while he was a student in 1969. All of these images are full-frame, and were shot on Kodak T-Max 100 film.

So much has changed in Europe since 1944, and even since I was first in France (from 2000-2001). Thanks to the efforts of so many for peace and reconciliation, to the Marshall Plan, and to the United Nations, Europe seems quite healed. France and Germany (along with many other countries in the EU) turned in their francs and deutschmarks and melded them all into the Euro. One could fill a book with many other stories of reconciliation.

We cannot forget that the peace that we enjoy came with an incredible price: the lives of so many.

The flag image was taken outside the Caen – Normandy Memorial and Centre for Peace, which is also a gallery celebrating Nobel Peace Prize winners. I didn’t take great notes on where all of the other images were taken, but if you’re interested, I can respond to a comment and try to help with the exact location!



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