For many people in my generation (and my country in general), Memorial Day is an abstract holiday filled with booze, the beach, and an additional day added on to the weekend. For many, it signifies the official start of summer.
I’m not judging.
I, too, have partied through the weekend without paying my proper respects to those who have served our country and those who have paid the ultimate price.
No, I’m not proud of my negligence, particularly since I live in the Hampton Roads area. I am surrounded by bases, forts, ships, and those serving in our military. I have family and friends currently serving and those who are retired military members. I’ve had classmates who have died in combat.
So, why did it take me a trip to France for me to finally “get it?”
Last week, I was in Normandy, France. Literally. Just to clear up a common misconception, Normandy is not a town, it’s a region in Northern France. It is where Operation Overlord took place and the Allied Forces successfully turned the tide of war to their advantage in the infamous D-Day landings.
But it’s also a place where so many paid the ultimate price.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to the D-Day sites. Nope, not one bit. My husband, Ben, insisted we go since we would be “in the area.” If you are in Paris, evidently you have to go several hours north to see the sites of the Normandy invasion…
Yes, I am a total history geek and former history teacher. However, during my European vacation, I would have preferred a pitstop in France’s Champagne region over a day long tour featuring war, guns, ammo, strategic military positions, hedgerows, and a high number of casualties…
I’m more into history that doesn’t include battle plans and heartache. But I realized, that too, is worthy of my attention. Actually, it is because of the battle plans and heartache I enjoy freedom every single day.
I learned more about the brave men and women who served our country in 8 hours traveling through Normandy than in my previous 33 years. Yes, I was aware of the dates, locations, facts, events, generals, and strategies that fill history books. I’ve seen the History Channel’s footage of the events of WWII but it took me actually visiting Normandy to appreciate the sacrifice and loss war brings.
Traveling through the major Operation Overlord sites, I was overcome with an immense sense of pride.
Wow. I am so very proud to be an American.
Ben and I booked a tour through Bayeux Multimedia Shuttles. You can see my review of the tour experience here. I cannot recommend them enough. If you are considering visiting the Normandy D- Day sites, they are the BEST.
We were able to visit many sites including the following…
La Cambre, a German cemetery where over 22,000 men are laid to rest, most of which were under the age of 21. I loved we started in a German cemetery because it truly helped to humanize all that were lost. Besides, they too, were somebody’s son, husband, grandson, brother…
Saint Mere Eglise most famous for the paratroopers landing. It also has a rare stainglass window inside the cathedral depicting signs of war.
Utah Beach a point where Allied forces also landed. We happened to be there on a glorious day.
Pointe du Hoc the site where Army Rangers stormed the cliff face to destroy German strong holds.
Omaha Beach where the Allied forces fought seriously to combat the Axis powers. Yes, this is also the first scene depicted in Saving Private Ryan.
Our final stop at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach
The American Cemetery at Omaha is beyond words. I know my video doesn’t do it justice. I was actually nervous walking into the cemetery because I wanted to properly pay my respects to our country’s fallen heroes.
If you are a teacher or interested in learning more, check out the speeches, poems, and primary sources located at the US Memorial Day Site.
If you are interested in donating to a wonderful cause this Memorial Day, please consider the World War II Foundation, which is preserving the testimonies of the Greatest Generation.
I hope you will take some time this weekend to pay respect to those who lost their lives protecting our freedom. I don’t really care if you agree with the reasons why our country was involved in war. We owe a huge thanks to those who have served and continue to serve our country. Please don’t be like me. Please do not wait until you are standing on the beaches of Normandy to understand freedom is not free.