The drive from Paris to Normandy was supposed to take three hours at the most. But Madame GPS, as my son nicknamed her, decided to take us on the scenic route. So after close to six hours of driving, we finally pulled into the driveway of Le Vaumicel. It was getting late, and grey clouds were gathering overhead, but nothing could keep us way from the D-Day beaches. It was what we had come here for. Ten minutes later, we were getting out of the car and walking on Omaha beach. The three of us went our separate ways. I took a few paces and then stopped, as a chilling realisation hit me like a stray bullet: behind me, German bunkers were built into the rock; in front of me, miles and miles of sand and open sea. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
On that fateful, stormy morning, that is retreating further and further into the realms of memory, thousands of men waded ashore, into the line of fire, staring death fully in the face. I couldn't, for the life of me, imagine the courage it must have taken, the willingness to sacrifice self for the greater good of humanity. I felt awed, humbled, completely at a loss for words, awash with emotions that I could not even name.
The tide was out and, as I walked slowly on the wet sand, I noticed the sea-shells. I bent down and gently started to gather them. They were fragile, little things - chipped, broken, incomplete. None were completely intact. The storms, the tides and the ever-restless sea had taken their toll. And as I held them between numb fingers and turned them over, those little shells reminded me of those men whose maimed and twisted bodies had lain, like the sea-shells, on the beaches of Normandy over seventy years ago.
I walked back towards the shore with tears in my eyes and noticed, for the first time, the roses that had been left on the sand, the little wooden crosses to commemorate loved ones, fallen comrades, men who were gone too soon.
I came back with much more than memories from Omaha beach and someday, when perhaps the world will choose to forget the ultimate sacrifice that was made there and on the other beaches of northern France, I will tell my grandchildren that I'd picked sea-shells where heroes had walked; where heroes had died.
Location: Omaha Beach (Vierville-sur-Mer & St Laurent-sur-Mer), Normandy, France