I’ve been seeing visions of bomb craters and grave markers today. Both rest atop high cliffs overlooking Utah Beach and Omaha Beach in Normandy, France–the site of bloody battles fought as Allied Forces invaded those beaches in an attempt to liberate Europe from the Germans 68 years ago today.
For the most part, the anniversary of D-Day goes unnoticed. Unless it happens to be a milestone anniversary like the 50th or the 75th, the media barely mentions the passing of another year. This morning, for example, one of the top stories on NBC’s Today was the recent engagement of Miley Cyrus to Liam Hemsworth, not the remarkable sacrifices made by “the greatest generation.”
Today, however, even with the lack of media coverage and Facebook memes, I can’t seem to stop thinking about those beaches.
Perhaps it is because I have been there. In 2006, the Hubs and I traveled to the French Riviera and Paris on an all-expense paid trip compliments of a previous employer. After several days of touring palaces and museums, we were looking forward to a change of pace and signed up for a day-trip to Normandy. The Hubs is a veteran of the U.S. Army and has an interest in military battles, and I have always been fascinated by the history of WWII. So, we went along for the three-hour bus trip, expecting to see a cemetery and some sand.
What we saw instead was awe-inspiring. The American Cemetery that sits on a steep cliff above Omaha Beach is more than a memorial. It is a glorious shrine to fallen heros with row after row of meticulously maintained grave marker crosses. I could see no posted signs requesting silence, but the quiet was deafening because there are simply no words to express the emotions that overcame our group as we stepped onto that sacred ground.
Here lay thousands of soldiers who gave their lives for their country, some just mere minutes after setting foot on that foreign shore. As chimes played classic hymns of prayer, tears flowed freely while we walked among the final resting place of 9,387 brave souls, approximately 3,000 of whom gave up their lives on that first day of intense fighting. The names of another 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in Normandy, but could not be located or identified are etched on the walls of a solemn garden where many stopped to offer prayers of thanks.
Further down the beach are the remains of war…grassy fields pock-marked with craters from Allied and German artillery fire…German casemates (fortified structures where weapons were stored) built so securely they barely show signs of age…bunkers left fully intact except for the empty space that at one time housed a German Panzer turret…acre after acre of preserved destruction meant to remind us of the brutality of war.
These memories alone could certainly cause my preoccupation today, but I believe the reason hits far closer to home.
Last summer, I witnessed my son taking the Oath of Service during Reception Day at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I heard him, along with more than a thousand fellow new cadets, proclaim, “I …do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States….So help me God.” With those words, a new-found patriotism was born, and today I, like many other West Point moms, get a lump in my throat at the singing of the National Anthem. I am teary-eyed at pictures of soldiers returning from deployment, and my heart swells at the site of the Stars and Stripes waving in the breeze.
I walked among those crosses at the American Cemetery and calculated time and again the young age of the soldiers buried there. Many were my son’s age when they walked into battle–made soldiers when they were barely men. Some were drafted into service, but others, like my son volunteered during a time of war. That, in my opinion, is the most honorable act a person can perform.
I am immensely proud of the decisions my son has made for his future, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about what that future will look like..
I am sure the mothers of those soldiers who fought in WWII waved the flag one minute and cried for their children’s safety the next. They probably felt their heart skip a beat when they glimpsed a man in uniform, the same way mine does when I see digitized camo. They probably smiled with comfort at a favorite garment, just as I do when I realize that wearing my favorite West Point t-shirt makes me feel closer to my child.
I can only hope that, at some point, the mothers of those lost on D-Day and the days that followed were comforted by the knowledge that their child’s sacrifice was not in vain. They are remembered. It may not be with grand ceremony, but they are remembered, and I am moved by the selflessness of their courage.