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Saturday, July 19


We arrived in Omaha Beach on May 26, when Memorial Day was observed. Changing weather from grieving cloudy to grateful bright sunshine, all within hours. Breathtaking scenery of long strips of sand, high cliffs in the distance, long forgotten muddy bunkers along the beach, a man in a cart pulled by a horse in the still quietness.

The American cemetery covering 172 acres of land and overlooking the beach and the English Channel, is the resting place to 9,387 American soldiers who were killed during the D-day landings, on June 6, 1944. The largest sea-borne invasion in history involving almost 3 million troops. The day on which the battle of Normandy began, a battle that led to the continent’s liberation from the Nazis.

The battle, code-named “Operation Overlord” lasted until August 25, 1944. It began with airborne paratrooper and glider landings, air attacks and navy bombardments that culminated on the amphibious attack of D-Day. Forty-seven Allied Divisions totaling 140,000 troops were involved, carried by 6,900 vessels, while 4,100 landing craft, 12,000 aircraft and 1,000 transport planes flew in the paratroopers. The dead from the Allied Forces totaled 53,000, the wounded were more than 150,000 and the missing in action 18,000. The German casualties approached 200,000 while another 200,000 were captured.

It is the dead soldiers, most in their late teens, early twenties, buried in tombs facing home, towards the west, that hold the day still. Many tombs have a cross, some David’s star, a few unidentified, “Known but to God.” Kids like Orin Saddler, Earlie Gabriel, Charles Smith and Bernard Coordes. Born during the false prosperity of the 20’s, hit by the economic collapse of the 30’s, raised by reading anti-war literature like “Gone with the wind”, “All quiet in the western front” and “Farewell to arms.” They never dreamt of throwing grenades, just baseballs. Never believed they would have to shoot at other young men, just a few animals on an occasional hunting trip. It had not crossed their minds they would end up holding the broken bodies of their dying comrades on the muddy Normandy beaches, just those of their girls under the starry skies back home.

But when the call came, they took on the challenge. They fought with all they had, they fought well and they won. These kids and all the soldiers that fought the Nazis were indeed the greatest generation. They did the job for the rest of us. I know that my generation has done nothing to deserve the freedom we enjoy. It was handed to us on a silver platter. And this is why it saddens me to see how many of my fellow Europeans refuse to share this gift with others.

Kids like Orin, Charles, Earlie and Bernard made it possible for my family to exist. It is for them this trip was taken. With deep grief and immense gratitude.