Visiting battle sites and cemeteries makes me think about being on the losing side, and how we should remember those who fell in a losing, or even evil, cause. Being in a particular place evokes an emotional reaction far beyond the purely intellectual study of war. It personalizes the past, and brings the visitor within fleeting reach of trying to understand what those individual names on the grave markers must have experienced, or learned and grasped about their own life.
While on a Museum tour of Normandy, France, in the spring of 2014, I visited the German Military Cemetery at La Cambe. I had visited many other WWII cemeteries before, both Allied and Axis, and with both military and civilians buried in them. On this entire tour, the weather was dominated by fog and mist, which heightened the sense of reaching back into a dimly lit, difficult-to-grasp past (see top photo).
As I walked deeper into the cemetery, a hill with some ill-defined monument on top loomed through the mist as I approached. It turned out to be a statue of Teutonic knights sheltered under a cross (see below). The view reminded me that whatever purity of motive and memory we have of past causes and victories, we alone are responsible for our causes and actions today, and that past glories do not transfer into later times. If a nation or individuals forget this, their ultimate destination can become a place like La Cambe.
"No matter one’s age, travel is a unique and exciting educational experience. In my work, I have had the opportunity to reflect on history, events, and people in the places where they experienced life. Through the viewfinder, we can not only find history and perspective, but create memory, and evoke our evergreen past."
– Keith Huxen, PhD, Senior Director of Research and History, The National WWII Museum
The D-Day Invasion of Normandy Gallery
A visitor favorite since the 2000 opening of The National D-Day Museum, The D-Day Invasion of Normandy Gallery is located on the third level of Louisiana Memorial Pavilion.
Keith is the former Senior Director of Research and History in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.