|the final tribute; American Military Cemetery; Colleville-sur-Mer, France|
I continued my journey at the American Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The director of the cemetery is a Vietnam veteran, retired Army infantry officer. He shared stories of that day and provided keen insight to the local area. He told me that French people make up around seventy percent of the cemetery’s visitors and that the local townspeople had adopted the veterans’ graves, laying flowers by their headstones periodically throughout the year. Every anniversary, attended by an ever dwindling few of the invasions’ participants, the towns’ children present the frail, wrinkled old grandfathers their bouquets, kiss their tear-stained cheeks, and thank them for their freedom. The French at Normandy have not forgotten the sacrifice of America’s, Canada’s, and Britain’s sons. I think this is due in part to the price they themselves paid. Over 20,000 French were killed in the Normandy Campaign. Understandably, tragically, and predictable, most of those casualties came at the result of Allied firepower. Those who receive gifts for nothing do not appreciate it as much as those who must pay a portion of cost.
Following a brief stop at the Omaha Beach Museum, I traveled West, across the Carentan Estuary and to Utah Beach. The beach itself reminded me of anyplace on the New Jersey shore. The very flat farmland separated from the beach by a low, two to three meter-high sand-dune reminded me much of the Garden State. While I was walking back from the beach, I immediately was struck by a scene of stark contrasts. The cold, sharpness of a barbed-wire fence harshly lit by the early afternoon sun cast dark shadows on the coarse wood-grain of a fence-post; and this took place in front of the soft US and French colors flying on pillows of clouds. This was representative of the contrast in emotions I had felt all day: The one between the physical beauty of the Normandy coast and the historic harsh reality of that bloody day.
My other stops on this trip included Sainte-Mere-Eglise, to see the parachuted dummy hanging from the church spire in honor of PVT John Steel (and The Longest Day); Point-du-Hoc; the museums at both Utah and Omaha Beach; the monument and museum at Bastogne; and the American Cemetery in Luxembourg, to pay my respects to General Patton. Though these were entertaining and moving, nothing compared to the emotions conjured up by standing there on those sands, well-grounded in the history of that day. If I came away with anything from those two days, it was an even stronger belief in a sovereign God and His divine hand displayed in that day. From the miraculous order that arose from such disorder (in the airborne mishaps and Omaha landings) to the selfless-service of battalion chaplains walking between the bullets and the shrapnel, ministering to those about to enter His presence, God’s hand was indeed manifest that day.