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Several years ago we were in France for our dear friend’s wedding. After enjoying the incredible ceremony and party, we headed to Normandy and Paris. After a brief pit stop in the beautiful seaside town of Honfleur, we headed to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. We knew it would be a tough place to visit, but I truly don’t think we understood just how powerful and emotional the visit would be.
From the moment we stepped onto Omaha Beach, you could feel the death, destruction and despair that had occurred there as if it had just happened. The feeling was palpable and inescapable. We started our visit by walking down to the beach where our troops handed landed. When the attack was launched, it was planned to begin 1-3 hours after low tide, which represented a compromise between the Army and the Navy. When we visited the beach that day, it was low tide. As we stood on the beach looking at the beachhead, I couldn’t help but imagine how it must have looked to our troops on June 6, 1944. The cliffs are steep and were heavily fortified. As they made their way up the beach, grenades and mines would detonate. That fateful day 6,600 American soldiers were killed in action, wounded or went missing in action.
Over the course of the campaign to secure the beachhead, June 6, 1944 to August 21, 1944, 72,911 Americans were killed or went missing in action. Omaha Beach present day is serene, beautiful and quiet, but the overwhelming feeling of loss that was omnipresent made for hard juxtaposition. It was almost hard to imagine the carnage that had happened in this beautiful place except for the pain of walking on hallowed ground in omnipresent.
We left the beach and began to walk through the cemetery. It is here that over 9,000 men who died in the Normandy campaign are buried. They came from all 50 states and were so young. As we walked through the cemetery, I couldn’t hold back the tears. The tomb of the unknown soldiers, of which there are many in Normandy, was difficult to see as a mother. I could not imagine the pain their mothers endured never knowing what happened to their son and never having closure. My heart ached for them.
We were there in 2011, 67 years after the D-Day Invasion. There were flowers and personal notes left on several graves, which took me aback. Sixty seven years later, the pain of loss from World War II was still very real. The wounds of war are slow to heal. We left the American Cemetery quietly and without speaking we headed to lunch. The experience was heavy, emotional and one that took several days to digest before any of us could speak about it.
The American Cemetery was humbling visualization of how many brave soldiers, sailors and airmen were willing to go to their death to preserve our freedom. Amazingly, it is representative of only one campaign in one war. In the course of American history, we have lost 651,008 servicemen and women. This Memorial Day we remember those that paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedom. The deep sense of gratitude hardly seems adequate for the price they paid. Lastly, we hold near their families, friends, and battle buddies, who still feel the pain of their loss.