On June 6, 2002, I walked the entire length of Juno Beach in Normandy. It was a lonely stretch, 13 kilometres lined with tiny holiday homes and closed-up waterfront restaurants. The beach itself was wide, flat and showed little evidence of the bloody chaos of 57 years ago.
Near the end of my walk, at Courseulles sur-Mer, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a ceremony honouring Canadian veterans. Local French troops and police marched, while old men in uniform tottered on old legs.
In a discussion recently, my friend wondered if it made him a bad person that he didn’t care for D-Day, Remembrance Day and other tributes to fallen soldiers. A pacifist, he viewed these occasions as celebrations of war.
I explained that I used to think that way–that I used to skip out on my school’s November 11 ceremonies out of spite. I realized, eventually, that regardless of the politics of a particular war, men still die. And though they may have died for a dubious cause or a politician’s whim, they deserve to be honoured.
For me, D-Day stands as a synecdoche for all the military action my country has seen. It stands as one of the most heroic battles of the 20th century, against one of the least ambiguous evils. Each year since 2001, I’ve remembered my walk, and the number of Canadian flags that fly there on the coast of Normandy.