I went to the beach for my vacation. But it’s not what you think.
Rather than lay out and soak in the sun, my wife and I just returned from 2 weeks in Normandy, France. We stayed at a little 18th century cottage in the country, spending our time touring battlefields, historical sites and museums, visiting villages, stopping to snack at bake shops, drinking coffee, sightseeing, riding horses and taking in the beauty of Normandy.
It was our 32nd wedding anniversary trip, and the first time we had been away as a couple in ___ years (insert “you’re a bad husband” vibes here). But it was also a “Bucket List” item for me, as since childhood I’ve been fascinated with the story of D-Day. Let’s just say, it was an epic moment for me.
I walked on Omaha Beach.
I followed the steps of the Band of Brothers.
I bought a 70-year-old Army helmet, buried in Normandy ground for over 65 years.
I walked for hours in and among German gun batteries.
I strolled with reverence among the over 9,000 white marble crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Over 1,500 are known only to God.
To say I was overwhelmed and overcome would be an understatement.
What those men did on that day (the pivotal moment of the 20th century) goes far beyond what a book or a movie can portray. The beach sand at Omaha, now frequented by fishermen, families and tourist, was once soaked in crimson. The average age of a soldier coming off those landing crafts was 22 years old. Some were still in the teens. Many never made it off their boats. Some exited their landing crafts only to be drowned, while others were cut down by an MG-42 machine gun firing down on them from the cliffs above. Men were slaughtered, cut in half, blown apart. But those fortunate enough to dodge the bullets that morning kept moving forward – some in fear, some for survival, but most because it was what they had been trained and ordered to do.
Later that morning, they breached Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, pushing back the Third Reich War Machine, gaining ground, and ultimately establishing a beachhead. And that’s what turned the tide of World War II. That’s why we’re free.
Today, all these men are dead or dying. One of the Band of Brothers, “Wild Bill” Guarnere, passed away while we were visiting the very battlefields where he fought. Those who remain hobble with canes and roll in wheelchairs. And before long, they will all be gone. They are now feeble, frail and sometimes forgotten. But when they were young, they saved the world.
We owe a profound debt of gratitude to theirs, and any generation that fights for freedom.
Yes, I’ve been there now.
But I still haven’t done that.