On 16 April 2018, the website Back-to-Normandy (www.backtonormandy.org) will exist exactly 15 years. The preparations to start this website started in june/july 2002 after my first visit to Normandy during the celebrations of D-Day (yearly on June 6th). It was an intense period with many beautiful, touching moments and I was introduced to the most impressive and important period of the last hundred years.
The coast of Normandy is a place where the biggest invasion army ever, with assistance from the greatest maritime fleet ever, landed to start the liberation of West-Europe. On a yearly basis, the eighty-kilometer long frontline changes into a touristic attraction with the main attraction being the veterans that ‘were there’. Every veteran, recognizable by the heaps of medallions on their chest, seems to have personally liberated the Nazi-occupied North Western part of Europe. They will tell their story to whoever wants to hear it, but mostly tell it to each other. They were fortunate enough to survive the battle. In thankful memory to their companions that did not make it: ‘forever young’, as I would hear the veterans say often.
The veterans were applauded and cheered on by dozens of men and women that were dressed in uniforms and fashion of the forties, while sitting on the old repaired army vehicles or endlessly walking around on the former battlegrounds to let them relive the history.
This sight amazed me. I did not understand much from the stories of the veterans, but I listened closely as I suspected that something important had happened. My interest turned to activity when I started archiving the stories through the website www.backtonormandy.org and by making movies of visits to historical locations and meetings with veterans. I also wrote my first compositions right after the impressive journeys through the difficult to pass hedgerows. Here, many soldiers on both sides had lost their lives even after surviving the first harsh battles at the beaches.
My thirst for ‘understanding’ the story became increasingly greater. The great amount of stories of veterans, facts and semi-facts annoyed me deeply as I could not understand the magnitude and connection of the events and the massiveness of the Normandy Landings. The countless of books and online documents only give a glimpse of what happened in Normandy and WWII.
As I have done before with complex situations, is trying to understand this problem by using the ‘relational database’ technique. This is a technique that can disclose facts with help of search methods and reveals the connections to other facts.
I went to archive stories, facts and semi-facts in a database that would form the core of Back to Normandy. The structure of the database made it possible to archive all the information in a way that it could provide an overview that is reproducible and understandable. The end of providing a complete view is still not in sight, as it will remain unfinished.
With a clear overview of the system, I continued. I continued not only with the story of Normandy, but as well with archiving a series of events through the entire Western Europe. Many names passed by. Many tens of thousands of names were written down so that they would not be forgotten. There’s a saying: ‘you’re only truly dead when your name is no longer spoken of.’ Besides this approach, I also had to make use of the emotional impact of what I had seen by composing music.
Several roads came together. The first road being the history of family members that had suffered from the German and Japanese occupation. The other road was the history of Western Europe that knows only one turn point: the time before June 6th 1944 and the time after. The day of the start of our freedom, fought by the hundreds of thousands combatants from other countries than our own.
This would become the guidance for many tens of thousands publications written on Back to Normandy. At this moment there are 139.503 stories and 13.824 categories, which are mostly a sum up of army units and their activities. As for my music, I gained an almost infinite well of inspiration. This afflatus led me to work as a film music composer and gave me the opportunity to meet Dame Vera Lynn and write the music for the documentary Omaha Beach Honor and Sacrifice. This documentary was awarded an Emmy in the US.
What satisfied me the most was that the website Back to Normandy had visitors from all places (over 160 countries and hundreds of visitors on a daily basis) and gave the opportunity to hundreds of people to help find the answers to their questions. These questions are involved with understanding their family members that participated in the landings in Normandy and their battle until the liberation of May 1945. A part of the testimonials are to be found here: www.backtonormandy.org/testimonials
In celebration of the last 15 years, I have created a film of 1 hour and 22 minutes. This film is composed of music that I have written and film material from the thirties and forties.
The story is as follows: