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June 4, 2007
Perspective in Normandy
The first thing you notice, of course, is the headstones. There are just
so many. Thousands upon thousands of markers for young American men, put
down in the primes of their lives while serving their country. You see
the rows and rows of crosses (and Jewish stars), followed by some trees,
followed by . . . more crosses.
On our honeymoon in France last week, I persuaded my wife to join me on
a day trip to France’s Normandy region. Throughout the bus trip, we
traveled to various locations that were instrumental in the Allies’
dislodgment of the Nazis’ French occupation.
We saw Bayeux, the first town in France
liberated by the Allies. We visited several of the beaches where
Allied soldiers landed, and a museum commemorating the events of June
1944. We went to the cemetery, near Omaha Beach, where thousands of U.S.
servicemen are buried.
What struck me about that cemetery, which we all of course remember from
the beginning and ending of “Saving Private Ryan,” was just how many
Americans lost their lives, in such a short period of time, in defeating
the most evil political force of the past 500 years. And, that most of
them were around 20 years old.
The bodies of 9,387
Americans are interred at the
American Cemetery and Memorial, and burials began on June 8, 1944, just
days after D-Day on June 6. That number does not include the many
soldiers whose bodies were brought back to the U.S. for burial, nor does
it include those killed during the various other theaters of the war.
War II, America faced an enemy unlike anything it had faced before or
since, and defeating that enemy required sacrifice – from massive
numbers of people, across all sorts of lines – that appears beyond what
our nation is prepared for today.
Being at that cemetery just made me recognize how ludicrous and
meaningless so much of today’s political discourse is. It just fell so
far beyond the constant, bad-faith arguments from both the left and
right over which side does or doesn’t “support the troops.” Or the
juvenile, embarrassing campaign against France in the U.S. press a few
years back, which actually led to “he looks French” being offered up as
a key reason to defeat the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party
On right-wing blogs lately, a graph has been making the rounds – sort of
a final grasping-at-straws for those who continue to back the
misadventure in Iraq. It lists the number of American soldiers killed
per year in the Iraq and Vietnam wars – with the latter, of course,
being a much higher number.
But really, so what? Just because it’s smaller than those of World War
II or Vietnam, is the number of soldiers killed in Iraq somehow
insignificant or meaningless? Did those families not lose sons,
daughters, fathers and mothers?
Most of all, being at Normandy brought my thoughts back to someone I
know here in Philadelphia. My wife’s grandfather is himself a World War
II veteran, who also served in Europe and crossed the English Channel
into France, albeit not until the year after D-Day. After the war he
returned to the States, became an engineer and had four children and 13
grandchildren, one of whom is my wife, Rebecca. At our wedding, the
previous weekend, I had seen him beaming with pride, as he had at two
previous family weddings, as he got his picture taken with all of his
In Normandy, I thought of all of the young men from that war – thousands
upon thousands of them – who never made it home, and never had
grandchildren or even children. That, even more than their young lives,
was what was left on that battlefield all those years ago.
America has done an amazing job, more than 60 years later, of properly
saluting its World War II veterans, and those who lost their lives in
the conflict. The government recognizes them, and amazing movies and
books are produced about them. I can only hope that, a half century from
now, the sacrifice of those currently in Iraq is treated with the same
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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