It’s D-Day in Conneaut, Ohio. And as I sit here at my kitchen table under a sun-drenched window, I can hear — and feel — the loud drone of airplanes overhead and the gunfire nearby.
The invasion, complete with a beach landing, explosions in the sand, shots fired by opposing forces and airplanes flying low overhead, started promptly at 3 p.m., right on schedule.
The D-Day reenactment has been staged in Conneaut since 1999. The location was chosen because the township park’s 250-yard-long public beach and adjacent sloping terrain are said to closely resemble Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
As I sit just four blocks away from the battle site and listen to the sounds of make-believe war, I wonder: What was it like for those who actually lived through World War II and experienced the sounds of a real war overhead?
Virginia Woolf described it this way in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940): “It is a queer experience, lying in the dark and listening to the zoom of a hornet, which may at any moment sting you to death. . .The drone of the planes is now like the sawing of a branch overhead. Round and round it goes, sawing and sawing at a branch directly above the house…A bomb drops. All the windows rattle.”
I could walk down to the park bluff to get closer, to see the “invasion” myself. But it’s easier to imagine the reality here in my kitchen than at the actual site.
From past experience, I know that the crowd of spectators sipping cold drinks and licking ice cream cones makes it difficult to imagine a real battle, where people kill and are killed. And the uniformed volunteers who portray the German and Allied soldiers of June 6, 1944, take so much obvious enjoyment in the weekend’s events that they prevent me from suspending my disbelief in the proceedings.
Last night, for example, we saw a man in full uniform riding through town in an open military Jeep. His posture, his heavy wool uniform on a hot summer afternoon, the jaunty tilt of his cap and the expression on his face as he suavely steered the vintage vehicle, said it all. He was so puffed up with the importance of his imaginary role in the upcoming “battle” that my companion and I turned to each other and laughed. Out loud.
Under the laughter, though, I recalled Virginia Woolf’s statement in Three Guineas (1938) that “wearing pieces of metal, or ribbon, coloured hoods or gowns, is a barbarity which deserves the ridicule which we bestow upon the rites of savages.”
My fear that some of those watching the events today may think that war is exciting, glorious, even fun, also prevents me from attending. I remember that in Three Guineas Woolf recognizes that “war is a profession; a source of happiness and excitement.”
And I read with dismay that as part of the event, children will build their own miniature Omaha Beach in the sand. I am not sure what to make of that.
But I remember Woolf’s response to war, and I am forced to stop and think again. I recall the fear she shared in her diaries as she heard — and sometimes watched at close proximity — German planes fly over the Sussex countryside during the second World War. And I recall her plea for peace in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.”
Those thoughts sound more loudly in my head than the airplanes. Or the gunfire. Or the explosions on the beach. And Woolf says such thoughts are more powerful than all three.