Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day, 2008

The other night I was watching "Saving Private Ryan" on one of the cable networks. I'd seen the movie before, and seen the scene in the US cemetery at Normandy before, but it got me thinking.

In 1993 I did the obligatory post-college European backpacking trip. a friend and I toured European capitals and the country side. One of the best destinations was the Normandy coast and a visit to the beaches of D-Day. We hitchhiked out from Bayeux and got dropped off at the exit for the beaches by a lawyer going to an interview in Calais. We walked from the exit to the beaches, along country roads boxed in by the huge, infamous hedgerows where undoubtedly Americans, Brits, Canadians, Poles, French and Germans died. It was a lovely summer day, 6 July, 1993.

We came eventually to the US cemetery at Coleville Sur Mer. A beautifully manicured and maintained piece of America, paid for by the blood of our soldiers, along the French coast. We walked down a path on a hill to Omaha Beach and looked back up at the ridge where the cemetery sits. I thought of the troops who came ashore there; considered their landing and how downright terrifying and awful it must have been to cross the ground we'd just crossed. Kids played somewhere down the beach, their laughter floated towards us on the breeze and an F-16 flew along the coast, low and slow -- a weapon that signified how what had happened on 6 June, 1944 would most likely never happen in the same fashion again.

My friend and I made our back to the cemetery and walked along the paths, looking at row upon row of white marble crosses, and Star-of-David-topped markers. I walked up to one cross, at random, and looked. The man buried there had died 49 years to the day that I was looking at his grave. He was about my age (in '93) and from Louisiana. I'm sorry that I can't recall his name now, but I'm sure that his first trip to Europe ended in Normandy. I'd already been to Europe about 4 times by this time in my life. It was at that moment that I understood what it meant to be an American.

That Louisiana man came far from home to fight and die and help people in a land far-away. We're Americans. It's what we do. It's who we are. We are an amazing people, and I consider myself so fortunate to live in this country populated with folks like the man whose grave I stood before 49 years after his death. I thanked him, rubbed the top of his marker and committed the experience to memory, glad that I could pay my respects to him, his family and their sacrifice, yet, not their sacrifice alone. I honor the sacrifice of all of the men and women and all of their families who served and continue to serve, in our armed forces to protect and defend the ideals for which this country stands.

Still, we have men and women in the field and under arms, being Americans and doing what we do -- defending our ideals in the hope that others may experience and live with the liberties we increasingly take for granted in this country. Today, I pay special mind, and pay honor to all those who have served, do serve, and will serve. Thank you and God bless you all.


FreeArtist said...

Funny how memory works. I had forgotten about the driver's profession, and his interview, but now recall them both. I have no memory of the F-16. I do remember those hedgerows, and feeling fry and dusty as we walked along in the sun, and I think we stopped for beer and sandwiches on the roadside.

Thanks for the post, and its sentiment.

Agricola said...

We did stop for a beer and sandwich at a little roadhouse, right near the highway exit. Then we walked for what seemed a long time until an electrician gave us a ride back to Bayeux.

We also met a woman who was a year behind us at school, and she'd studied abroad her junior year. We spoke with her and her parents in the cemetery. It was really quite amazing and I remember telling them how much the experience had affected me.

Thanks for reading and the comment.

FreeArtist said...

Right! I remember the girl's facec, but not her name. I remember hoping that they'd give us a lift back to Bayeaux, but no dice.