We went to the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France to pay our respects to the men of the Allied Invasion in 1944. This spot is located on a peaceful bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, and is filled with American plants and Kentucky blue grass specially brought over from home . The serenity of the landscape now belies what took place some 70 years ago. American flags fly overhead on this land that France has granted to the United States in perpetuity without charge. The day we went, it was blustery and raining. I am sure that Heaven still cries over the tremendous loss of life laid to rest here.
I had studied about the D-Day invasion and had attended a hand full of lectures by a military historian. Thank you Colonel Larry Saul! I had watched Band of Brothers numerous times, Saving Private Ryan, and The Longest Day. I had conversations with others about personal stories of these men. I had read about the Greatest Generation. I had visited war museums. However, I was still not prepared for what I saw. I was not prepared to understand what they did. I was not prepared for the raw emotion that was evoked by the thousands of white crosses and those with the Star of David a top. There were SO many with June 6, 1944 engraved upon them. Fathers, sons, brothers lost to those who loved them. There are also three American women buried there who served our Country during that war. I was reminded of the words spoken by the character in Saving Private Ryan and applied it to myself. “I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
We spent the day exploring the beaches, the cliffs, and the drop zones of the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions. Thousands of our young men landed by sea and air that day with the mission to liberate a people…a country…a continent… from the tyranny of the Nazi forces with the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere.
We learned of the obstacles of nature and man that were scattered about to hamper their progress…hedgerows, marshes, gunnery bunkers, land mines, and the enemy. I don’t know how they did it. I really do not. Those men did immeasurably more than I can even deem possible. In the words of Ronald Reagan at the 40th Anniversary of D-Day: “The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge – and pray God we have not lost it -that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest”.
We were there as they played Taps and solemnly lowered the American Flags which unleashed powerful emotions of what that flag stands for. I know this visit has changed me in inexplicable ways. It has given me a deeper sense of who we should be as Americans. It reminded me that we cannot forget our legacy and the baton of freedom that has been passed from that generation to ours. It reminded me that freedom is definitely not free and that we must never forget how high the price. The people of Normandy have not forgotten. We owe a debt of gratitude that is immeasurably more than I ever imagined.
“If we forget what we did, we won’t know we are”~ Ronald Reagan