D-Day 75th Anniversary

Today is June 6th. A day that always makes me pause to remember. And this year is especially important, as it’s the D-Day 75th anniversary.

If you’ve ever seen “Saving Private Ryan” or watched “Band of Brothers” – or lived in Europe, or had a family member serve in the military, or been fortunate enough to have a World War 2 veteran in your life, you know what I’m talking about.

On June 6, 1944, in a massive attempt to end the war, the Allies invaded Normandy in Operation Overlord. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history.

The Americans, British, and Canadians, not to mention other Allies suffered tremendous losses in this attempt to beat the Nazis on the French coast.

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Our Duty by Gerri Hilger

 

 

I had the opportunity to visit the Normandy beaches when I was 23 years old. At the time, I was living in Paris working as a bilingual secretary. My good friend Lisa and I decided we wanted to go see the Normandy beaches and memorials.

It was a weekend trip that would change my life. I originally wrote about that trip on my personal blog, No Holding Back, for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

We stood on the beautiful beaches and saw what a disadvantage the Allies had as they fought hard to land on the beach in rough waters and scale a massively steep wall, all while bullets rained down on them.  I wrote this in my journal on that trip:

Lisa and I left the hostel and joined a group for a van-tour of the coast. The first place we went – Port du Hoc – still had all of the bunkers (underground) of the Nazi soldiers. Large craters are still all over the place from the bombing. The fact that the American soldiers scaled those cliffs, while being fired on, is so amazing to me. Judging from what I learned and saw this weekend, Spielburg’s “Saving Private Ryan” is quite accurate!

The tour of these places – Omaha beach, Utah beach, the cemetery – was all so amazing. We were enjoying ourselves so much, I often had to remind myself that we were in such a somber place. It was rainy, cold, and VERY windy – the wind literally picked me up off my feet once.

When we went to the {Normandy American} cemetery, I broke away from the group and walked alone. I did a lot of thinking. The monument is gorgeous, and there’s a small chapel in the middle. I have been searching for peace and nothing has been helping, but when I stepped into that tiny chapel, I found my peace. It overwhelmed me and I felt my burdens lifted. I knelt at the alter and and cried. Cried for these thousands of men who never got to go home. Cried for all the people who are fighting now, for whatever reason, cried for me.

In this moment, I became so very aware of the price for peace and the importance of freedom and democracy.

I took a reminder of it with me. I scooped (into a film canister) a little it of mud from the general area, and then I found a soldier from South Carolina – Sgt John L. Johnson – and I took some grass and mud from above his grave. I kissed his cross. I remembered him.

One thing that is nice about the cemetery is that all 9,000 or 30,000 or however horribly many graves are there, are all facing West – toward home. When Frederic (our cute little French tour guide) told us this fact, I nearly cried….

The most impactful moment was our visit to the cemetery. Lines and lines and lines of crosses… all facing West, toward home.

It was while standing at the American cemetery in Normandy that I found my calling to go into the Military. #DDay75 #WW2 #neverforget Click To Tweet

There’s so much I want to say about War and Veterans and the sacrifices made… because it seems like everyone is forgetting. The greatest generation is almost gone. Very few of our WW2 Veterans remain, and my fear is that their stories will die with them. when I lived in France, I had the opportunity to attend several World War 2 celebrations. I took the opportunity to speak to as many of the Veterans as I could. That was almost 20 years ago. Many of them have died. But I remember their stories. I also remember how much they loved and respected the Americans who came to fight for them. We had a different reputation and legacy then.

We can’t forget.

It was at the cemetery pictured above that I found my calling to go into the Military. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I know now that on that day, looking at those crosses, when I collected that canister of dirt, I decided to pursue a career in the military.

U.S. Army veteran Onofrio Zicari, 96, visited the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach, 75 years after he participated in the D-Day operations on June 6, 1944. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images) I nabbed this photo from THIS POST. D-day 75th anniversary

We remember and honor them by telling their stories. By sharing about their lives. By visiting the Memorials. By respecting their sacrifices. My friend Gerri Hilger’s mother was a nurse during WW2. Her mother’s best friend, also a nurse, joined the Army Nursing Corps and headed off to the Pacific, where she had many adventures and saved many wounded soldiers. If you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, and that sounds interesting (because now you’re all fired up about World War 2, right?) check out Our Duty. It’s a light read. Despite the topic, the ladies are fun and hilarious.

Finally, if you know a WW2 veteran, take the time to listen to their stories. They won’t be around much longer and their stories will blow your mind. They were all heroes.

Never forget.

D-Day. June 6, 1944.

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