Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the American Cemetery in Normandy France. My wife and I were traveling in the area and I wanted to see some of the D-Day landing sites and small villages where the battles took place. Quite honestly, the American Cemetery was not on my list of places to see in France. I don’t know why it wasn’t planned and to this day I don’t know why I decided to pull off the main road and follow the sign down a short road leading to the Cemetery.
I remember it was cloudy as we arrived and light showers had fallen earlier in the day. The Cemetery is built on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. Having never read much about the Cemetery itself, I really didn’t know what to expect and our view from the parking area gave no indication. But as we turned past a bank of trees and headed in, I began to see white crosses. Just a few at first. It was at that point I remember my pace slowing down. When the entire Cemetery finally came into view I stopped walking. I found myself staring out at 127 acres filled with Crosses and Stars of David for the 9,387 men who are buried there as a result of casualties inflicted on D-Day and ensuing battles.
And then I did something totally unexpected. I cried. As we continued walking, the tears wouldn’t leave me. Not as I read the names on the Crosses, visited The Wall of the Missing inscribed with another 1557 names, or looked out onto Omaha beach below where so many of these men lost their lives. Later, when we stopped in the visitors center, I went over to the guest book, foolishly thinking I could possibly find some words that might express what I was feeling. As I picked up the pen to write, I looked at the last entry, written earlier that day. It simply said, “Grandpa, we finally made it.” I read those five simple words and cried again. The only thing I could think to write was, thank you.
Sixteen years later the images are still very clear; the emotions still very close. I told my wife at the time that if every American had the opportunity to see that place and others like it, Memorial Day might be more than a barbecue, Veterans Day more than a parade, and our respect and gratitude for all those who have ever served this country, might be felt a little more deeply, shown more openly and without reservation.
On Veterans Day, the common phrase is, if you see a Veteran today, please take a moment and thank them for their service to our country. But the truth is, we should do that every time we see one. Because without them and their sacrifice, this world and country would be a very different place. If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t been paying attention.
There are 24 American Cemeteries on foreign soil and one very large one in Our Nation’s Capital, along with many other memorials that honor those who served and died for the freedoms we enjoy. Visit if and when you can. Take your children and answer their questions honestly. Like all of us, they need to understand. Six Flags can wait.
Thank you to all who have served our great country. And a very special thank you to those families whose loved ones paid the ultimate price.