June 06, 2012

Remembering D-Day

A Comrade in Arms Known But to God
Today is June 6th, a day to remember the sacrifices of the courageous American, Canadian, and British patriots who fought so bravely on that fateful day 68 years ago. I have visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer three times. The first time was when I was a student in France in 1994. It was the 50th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, the D-Day maneuver that landed the Allies on the beaches of Normandy on that fateful morning in 1944. Most recently, I visited this sacred American soil on the coast of the French province of Normandy with my students last spring. It is at once a sobering and patriotic experience. The visit always begins at the WWII Memorial with its poignant message in French: "1941-1945: Les États-Unis d'Amérique, fiers des exploits de leurs fils, humbles devant leurs sacrifices, ont erigé ce monument en leur mémoire." - "The United States of America, proud of the actions of their sons, humbled by their sacrifices, have erected this monument in their memory." In the center of the colonnade is the bronze colossus, surrounded by the lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free...."  It always brings a tear to my eye, as do the Stars and Stripes flying proudly over the graves of nearly 10,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen buried beneath white marble crosses and Stars of David. My students were challenged to wander amid the markers, to find one that "spoke to them": maybe it was a soldier from Wisconsin or a sailor with the same last name. So may students were touched by the markers stating, "Here Rests a Comrade in Arms, Known But to God." I always make the treck down to the shores of Omaha Beach where the sand and sea are both beautiful and haunting. From that vantage point, no matter how graphic the movies have attempted to portray it, it is so difficult to image how those brave men were able to put their fears aside, to charge up the cliff and fight for freedom - freedom for their own countries, as well as freedom for France.  So many visiters, myself included, have taken time to write "thank yous" and "mercis" in the sand.  Maybe it's because I'm the daughter of a WWII veteran, or maybe it's because I love my country and I love France, but I always pause on June 6th to remember and give thanks.

The WWII Memorial above Omaha Beach, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy
The Bronze Collossus
Omaha Beach 2011