Normandy 1944-2024: Eighty Years Later The Memory Lives On

I climbed into the steel reinforced bunkers overlooking the Normandy landing beaches on Pointe du Hoc eighty years after the Rangers overtook the strategic German lookout 90 feet above the English Channel. I pictured a 19-year-old American boy jumping out of a PT boat into icy waters, with nothing more than a gauze bandage for comfort on a stormy dawn illuminated by gunfire.

I imagined him staggering across the dunes, dodging bullets and booby traps, clawing at the red cliffs, crawling through the hedge rows, groping for life in a foreign land, shooting at the shadows that could be his own comrades. He was an American soldier killing boys/men, who would have been his friends in another time and generation.

Here rests in honor glory a comrade in arms known but to God

I am of another time and generation — an American with a French-Normand spouse and German friends. Though I’ve been to Normandy hundreds of times, I visited the Normandy American Cemetery (outside St. Laurent) just once.

Only when standing on the hallowed grounds, where Americans lay under a blanket of emerald earth, marked by 9,386 white crosses, could I truly understand the enormity of their great and tragic endeavor on June 6, 1944.

On a rainy day, Normandy’s landscape offers a bleak reminder of her sad past, but on sunny ones the murky coastline, black sea, and gray fields are transformed into a tapestry of colors. Orange cliffs drop off into purple waters. Inland reddish-brown Norman cows and pink apple blossoms dot verdant hills under powder blue skies. Soft light white washes half-timbered houses and solid stone farm houses that remain as they were centuries ago.

The beauty and tranquility of Normandy today could drive a full-grown man to tears. And I, who am too young to have understood the impact of World War II, get a lump in my throat every time I return to the dairyland of northwestern France on one of those pinch-me-I-am-dreaming days of sunshine.

my husband's village on Normandy shores

Decades ago, on one of those sunny days, I pedaled my bike past red poppy fields and green valleys where newborn calves and lambs romped. I devoured veal “à la Normande,” Camembert cheese and berries in cream. Somewhere between the first and last course, I fell in love with a Norman.

Now the sacrifices of the men of the great war, their silent testimonials of white crosses that cover the rich green hills above the beaches Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword and Omaha have taken on special meaning for me.

They are my countrymen laid to rest in my adopted country. In a sense they saved my family.

freedom for the next generation

Every time, we used to visit Dieppe, (France) to see my grandfather-in-law, he’d greet me at the gate chanting the Star Spangled Banner.

“Ah, ma petite Pat,” he’d say recounting the highlight of his career as a trumpeter in the Garde Republicaine “I’ll never forget riding Lustucru (his horse) across the courtyard. The Allies landed in Normandy on June 6, but didn’t make it to Paris until the end of August. We waited for four long years…never quit believing they’d make it.”

He’d stop and pull a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wipe his eyes, before continuing, “Never forget how I blew the trumpet that day to welcome the Americans — greatest day of my life.”

The old heart does not forget. Now even though my generation never knew the horrors of war, my young heart will remember. When I stood in front of a sea of stark, white marble crosses, I felt overwhelmed by a debt that can never be repaid.

Suddenly I knew the unknown soldier — he was my father, my brother, my countryman, who died so nobly and unknowing, so that today I might live in freedom and peace in a land whose magnificence offers its own thanks to the skies.

Rest in peace my comrades-in-arms. You have not died in vain. I wish my words could transcend time so you could know. Because of you Normandy today, like the true Normans, remains proud and gracious.

Posted in inspiration, travel, Uncategorized.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks Pat for a wonderful reminder. I think of my dad and the veterans buried in Summit Lake Cemetery. we were blessed by their efforts.

    • Thanks Joe. I still think of your dad and the other veterans every time I walk through the Summit Lake Cemetery. So grateful that through efforts, we were able to grow up in freedom.

  2. Beautiful tribute Pat. Such a necessary reminder of our delicate freedoms that we enjoy today. The phrase “Freedom is not free” has never been so poignant as it is today. Prayers for those gone before us as well as the battles we face before us. God Bless the USA!🇺🇸

    • Thank you for your thought provoking words. You are right “freedom is not free.” We need to do all we can as citizens to assure we maintain peace and protect the principles of democracy.

  3. Dear Pat,
    thank you for your touching article.
    As you wrote: “I felt overwhelmed by a debt that can never be repaid.”
    That`s much more true for a German like me. But believe me, I never will forget it.
    Kisses
    Tom from Marburg

    • Thanks, Tom, for your words. I will never forget how we united German, French and Americans at my wedding in 1983. And I will be forever grateful for your kindness, which could never have occurred during the WWII era. I have learned so much from you and have cherished our friendship since & during my epic Marburg basketball days. Your men’s team and my VFL teammates made me feel so welcome and at home when I lived there.

I would love to hear from you

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