Sand Sculptures Move Normandy Beach Visitors to Tears
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 29, 2004 For the director of the White House Commission on Remembrance, some of the most enduring images of this month's 60th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landing at Normandy, France, will be the sand on the beach a 30-by-30-foot sand sculpture.
A sand sculpture of troops disembarking from a landing craft
during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of the beaches of Normandy, France.
Photo by Bernard Clerc-Renaud
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Look at that! Look at that! I've never seen anything like that in my life!" a man exclaimed when he saw the sand sculpture on Omaha Beach, Carmella LaSpada said.
"I've never seen anything that was so awesome, so overwhelming," she said. "People from all over the world -- Russia, Greece, Belgium, Hungary, the United States -- had tears in their eyes. Some people said, 'This is the third time I've come. Each time I come, it touches me.'"
Initiated by the White House Commission on Remembrance, the "Sands of Remembrance" memorial caused an 8-year-old French girl to exclaim, "Wow! Magnifique!" when she saw the sculpture depicting soldiers landing on Normandy beaches. The sculpture was made from 50 tons of sand from the five landing beaches that were codenamed Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah.
LaSpada recalled more of the comments she heard: "I feel the presence of those who died." "No other commemoration for those who died has so much meaning." "How could this have been done? It's unbelievable." "It brought tears to my eyes." "It sums it up, what happened." "It makes you think." "You feel gratitude."
The commemoration involved many displays and events, LaSpada said, but none matched the sand sculpture for emotional effect. "You have your commemorations, concerts, parades, ceremonies and your speeches, but nothing that touches the mind and heart like the sculptures did," she said. "And the way it touched young people and old people alike was just amazing."
French television aired a story about the sculpture May 30, and the next day some people said they drove more than 50 miles just to see it, LaSpada said. "It was also on the front page of the Daily Telegraph and the London Times newspapers," she noted. "People cut out pictures of the sculptures from a Stockholm (Sweden) newspaper and brought them with them."
LaSpada said she listened to a father from the United Kingdon explaining the meaning of the sculpture to his 7-year-old daughter. "When he finished talking, she looked at everything again, her eyes wondering, and took a deep breath, and said, 'Daddy, the next time we go to the beach I want to make a sand castle for (the soldiers who died on Normandy beaches),'" LaSpada said. "That says it all. They died for kids to be able to play in the sand on those beaches. I wish the world could have seen the sculptures."
She said a woman from the World War II French resistance was pleased to find out that the resistance contributions to victory were recognized in the sculpture.
"Veterans from the United States said it was so touching to them," LaSpada said. "They said it made them think about all their friends who died on the beaches, and that it was wonderful to honor them is such a special way."
LaSpada said it was necessary to perform maintenance on the sculptures every day; otherwise they would have fallen apart. "Every day my assistant had to mix wood glue and water and spray it on them in the morning and in the afternoon to keep them from crumbling," LaSpada said. "We had a tent around it to protect it from the winds."
After the ceremonies were over, the sculpture was broken down and the sand returned to the beaches wence it came. "It was important to return the sand to the beach it came from, because that's were the soldiers shed their blood," LaSpada said.
Sand sculptors John Gowdy and Matthew Deibert of the United States; Mark Anderson and Edward Dudley of the United Kingdon; Dale Murdock of Canada; and Julien Legaes and Guillaume Pelletier of France created a historically accurate sand sculpture of the Normandy invasion, LaSpada noted.
The sculpture was dedicated on May 30 and remained on exhibit through June 8.
LaSpada said people protested when workers were breaking down the sculpture to haul the sand away on June 8. "They didn't want it taken down," she noted. "One of the sculptors had to get the mayor to explain to the people why the sculptures had to be taken down. That sums up what this meant to them.
"'Sands of Remembrance' was symbolic, so I wanted to make it special and it was." LaSpada said.