When we began planning our trip to Europe, Kennan asked each of us to name one place that we just could not miss. There was no question in my mind. Normandy. I'm not sure when I fell in love with World War II history. I don't even know that much about it, but somewhere along the line it happened. I'm sure it had something to do with hours and hours of World at War videos and "Axis and Allies." I knew that if I didn't get to see anything else in Europe, I needed to see those beaches. What I didn't know was what a huge impact it would have on me.
We were in Normandy almost two weeks ago, but it needs to be posted about. Better late than never. Our hostel was in the little town of Bayeux, France, just a few miles from the coast. As soon as we stepped off the train onto the platform in Bayeux, my eyes welled up with tears and it was all I could do to keep from crying aloud. The wave of emotion startled me. I could imagine American soldiers walking through this town. There was a small café near the station with its menu-board out on the sidewalk. On the bottom of the board, in big letters, it read "Welcome to our Liberators!"
The next day we visited the American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach. It's too bad I hadn't thought to pack a pound of Kleenex in my alotted 22 lb. pack, because I could have used them all the minute I walked up to the visitor center. The inscriptions etched in stone at the doors of the center were enough to set me off for the rest of the day. Here's one of them:
"Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices." ~ Harry Truman.
Inside the visitor center were video depictions, plaques, historical information, and displays to help people understand the events preceding, during, and following the D-Day invasion, and why it was necessary. The part that was the most haunting about the whole thing was towards the end of the exhibit. There was a short hallway with cement on all sides. As you passed through it you could hear a voice reciting names. 1 every 5 seconds. The names of U.S. soldiers who died liberating France. Thousands of names. You could stand there for hours upon hours and not reach the end of the list. Tragic. But as I listened to the names, I was glad that someone is still reciting those names. They were real boys, real men. They all had so much to lose, but chose to give. Their names should be remembered. My heart wells with pride at another inscription I find in the visitor center. A quote from a French civilian from the little town near Omaha beachs reads: "The Americans are the only ones in the streets of the town. There are no more Germans. It is an indescribable joy."
There just aren't words to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me as I walked across that long, wide beach were thousands took their last step. No words as I looked out across the lawn to over 9,000 white crosses, and back over my shoulder to over 1000 more names inscribed in a memorial (men whose bodies were never located for burial). These were America's sons. In my mind I can picture the men standing there in perfected rows, instead of the crosses that mark their memory, and I wonder: if these men here had known, would they still have gone? I think maybe they did know. But if they had all survived, what would America be today? America needed men like these. Then my thoughts turn "summitesque" and I remember that ideas have consequences. These crosses. These are the consequences; the legacy of one man. And I know that this is the way the world goes, but as I stand in that sacred place, breathing in the freedom bought for me at great price, I resolve in my heart…NEVER AGAIN.
And now I'm crying again.