Is there a name for the emotion one feels when one visits somewhere which holds so much meaning? I felt emotions which didn’t seem to have a name.
As I stood on Utah beach just trying to take in the enormity of what had happened there, all I could think about was a farmer from Alabama who landed there. He was scared as any soldier would be as he got his first taste of war. The bullets were flying around him, and as he landed and dug a foxhole he prayed for his wife, his family, and that God would give him courage to never run away or do anything cowardly before the enemy. That brave man was my grandfather on June 6, 1944.
I personally cannot fully fathom what it must have been like for him and the other thousands upon thousands of soldiers who landed on the D-Day beaches that day. As I looked from the sea to the beach, I was struck by the short distance between the two. How in the world did anyone survive?
It’s one thing to read about these events in history. It’s entirely another thing to go to where this event took place and to have had someone there who left a firsthand account of what he experienced. I was looking on scenes he had looked on although granted the landscape has changed quite a bit in the 72 years since the landing. I wondered where he was exactly on this beach, where he dug his fox hole, where he ran when someone yelled that his best friend had been hit though thankfully, he discovered his friend was okay. I can only just imagine how traumatic it must have been for him to witness the devastation and the horror of war all around him as he tried to find a path forward.
As I stood there, I yet again thanked God for sparing him and protecting him just as I had when I went to see the Hürtgen Forest back in February which was another bloody battle he took part in. I thank God that He blessed him with the grace to overcome the trauma after the war, and that he lived to have a wonderful, blessed life following the Lord and raising a family. I know he never forgot that day he landed nor all the experiences which followed, how could he?
There is one thing I regret for him. I regret he never saw or heard how thankful the French were and are for what he and his fellow soldiers did. He had a very low opinion of the French because they fired at him, and he felt that they were overall ungrateful for the sacrifices of the Allies to liberate them. During my various stays in France, I have been moved to experience the complete opposite. Any time I have mentioned my grandfather’s story, I have seen the French nearly moved to tears and most have asked if I my grandfather were still alive to be able to thank him themselves. The French are grateful, and they do wish to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to free them from the oppression of the Nazis. This was a plaque at Utah Beach:
I have seen firsthand the bond of an American family and a French family who have remained close through the years because a Frenchman risked everything to save an American from being taken by the Germans. I hope that this bond I have seen can be a testament to not just the friendship of two nations, but also the reality of human compassion and resilience in the midst of horrible circumstances.
I’m glad that our family can at least know that the French do honor my grandfather and those like him who risked their lives and futures that this nation might be free. Of course, I’ve heard all sorts of commentary on the economic and political reasons of why the U.S. got involved, but, my friends, don’t ever forget that life is precious and valuable and that the cost of war is insurmountable. There were men, young men, who never made it home, who never fulfilled their dreams, who left an empty place at their family’s table and in their loved ones’ hearts, who breathed their last breath on a foreign land. Looking upon those rows upon rows of crosses is mind boggling because each of those men, many of whom were around my age, had their own personalities, loves, hopes, fears, dreams, and yet, they laid it all down in the ultimate sacrifice and here they rest.
Many were gone before their lives truly began.
Let us honor them.