Never, ever

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The American Cemetery in Normandy

On this 75th anniversary of D-Day, I wanted to share some of the pictures from our visit to Normandy in 2014, shortly after the 70th anniversary.  Scores of WWII veterans who were part of Operation Overlord have passed away since then.  It’s highly doubtful that more than a handful of them will be with us to observe the 80th anniversary.

My visit to Normandy was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  I actually have tears in my eyes right now as I type this.  I struggle to comprehend the terror so many young men experienced that June morning 75 years ago.  And how many fathers, uncles, grandfathers never were because they fell as young men on a beach in France to defend the world against unspeakable evil.  And how many mothers and fathers never knew what happened to their sons because their bodies were never found.

The world is in danger of forgetting how evil like that still lives in the hearts of some.  Of repeating the same mistakes of rampant nationalism that led to the unspeakable suffering of millions.  Of not being vocal enough in denouncing all if the “-isms” that can lead to the dehumanization of “the other.”

Latest estimates indicate that 4,414 Allied soldiers were killed on June 6, 1944, 2000 of them being Americans killed on Omaha Beach.  There were a total of 10,000 casualties that day.  And that doesn’t include the deaths and casualties on the German side.

Staggering.

We can’t ever forget what happened 75 years ago.  And why it happened.  And do all we can to never, ever let anything even remotely like that ever happen again.

Ever.

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Memorial to the “The Bad of Brothers” Airborne unit.

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Utah Beach marker

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Dick Winters was the leader of Easy Company. This statue was put up after his death because he would not permit anything honoring only him and not the rest of E Company in his lifetime.

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One of the hundreds of memorials in Normandy. This is at the top of Omaha Beach.

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Memorial honoring the 1st Infantry.

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Memorial honoring the Navy.

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There are so many museums about D-Day around Normady. This is the one at Utah Beach.

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Old German guns in concrete bunkers.

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German fortification on Pointe du Hoc where incredible brave Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to take the location against heavy German artillery.

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Memorial at Pointe du Hoc

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The ground is still pockmarked some 70 years later from heavy artillery fire.

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Point-du-Hoc

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The cliffs that the Army Rangers scaled on D-Day.

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The tiny church at Angoville-au-Plain where two young American medics worked treating both Americans and Germans on D-Day. A fascinating story. One of the medics, Robert Wright was buried there when he passed away in 2013.

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The 70 year old blood stains on the pews where the medics treated the wounded.

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A stained glass window in the church honoring the two medics.

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The remains of the artificial harbor the Allies built in Arromanches-les-Bains after D-Day to bring tanks, jeeps, munitions and other supplies to the troops. The story behind the building of this harbor is fascinating.

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Utah Beach

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Utah Beach

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Omaha Beach

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The hillside above Omaha Beach were the German gunners hid and picked off American soldiers in the first wave of landing craft.

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The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

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The American Cemetery contains the remains of 9,380 fallen American, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day and the ensuing operations in the following days and weeks.

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In addition to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, there are also English cemeteries, Canadian cemeteries and German cemeteries that all hold the bodies of the young men killed as the result of a madman’s dream of racial purity and world domination. Such a horrific waste of young life.

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God bless them all and may their spirits help us to never forget.

 

 

 

 

Poppies everywhere

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So yesterday was Memorial Day here in the U.S.

Every country has it’s own version of a special day set aside to honor those who have lost their lives in service to their country. Whether you agree with the war/conflict that took their lives or not, it’s important to recognize and honor those who sacrificed their future in the service to their country. And recognize the families who lost precious daughters and sons, wives and husbands, fathers and mothers.

Growing up in the late 50’s, early 60’s in the little town of Aspinwall, less than 8 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, was a lesson in patriotism. The good kind. Not the Trump kind.

The Korean War had just ended in a stalemate, but America was still basking in the glow of becoming the “King of the World” after WWII which was only a short 10 years before. It’s good to be king.

Our local VFW hall was always packed with veterans. It was next to local drug store where I used to sit at the counter with my sister and drink cherry Cokes after going to matinee at the local theater. I think the matinee cost a dime… And the cherry Coke probably cost a dime too.

On summer afternoons, you’d find the vets talking and sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of the VFW. Some of them would be in the small yard at the side of the building playing horseshoes. At the time, I thought they looked terribly old and I was a bit wary of them.

Much how little children may feel now at the sight of AGMA.

Every Armistice/Remembrance Day (now Veterans Day), Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), and 4th of July (still the 4th of July!), Aspinwall held a parade. And all of the veterans came out to march. The oldest were from the Spanish American War. There were lots of WWI veterans too.  And paper poppies everywhere.

We dutifully went to every parade. And even though I really didn’t understand what it was all about, I knew that these parades and the people who marched in them were important. Even though they were a bit scary to an 6 year old AGMA…

The biggest parade by far was on the 4th of July. Not only did the veterans march, but half of the town was in the parade too. I remember going to see my 14 year old sister marching with her junior high band playing the stuffing out of her clarinet. She rocked. And there were American flags everywhere – hanging on homes, on the floats in the parade, in people’s hands, on every store front.

To young eyes, it was wonderful. Thinking back on it now, it seems almost surreal that things were so idyllic.

Then came the Vietnam War, the violence of the Civil Rights movement, Kent State, Watergate.

AGMA now looked at the world with older & wiser eyes. And she didn’t feel all that patriotic anymore.

We raised our children with an appreciation for the freedom’s in America and the importance of exercising the right to vote, but we never went to a parade on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day or the 4th of July. We never had any discussions at the dinner table about what was important about those days; why we needed to observe them. To my kids, they were just long holiday weekends.

AGMA regrets that. *sigh*

Only later in life did I realize that, for as flawed as I saw my country, it really is the land of the free and home of the brave.  There’s no place on earth I’d rather live.

Well okay – maybe I’d like to live in Ireland for a couple of months of the year…

Democracy is messy and complicated because people are messy and complicated. And dysfunctional and wounded. And egocentric and self-serving.

No wonder our presidential politics are so messed up.

But we have a duty to those buried beneath the white headstones in Arlington, those resting in foreign soil, those who were never found, to try to make our country worthy of their sacrifice. They plead with us to honor their memory by coming together and working to create an America for the 21st century we can be proud of. One that the world can once again look to with respect. They ask us to teach our politicians that patriotism is not the partisanship of being a Republican or Democrat or any other party, but about the spirit of fairness & freedom, concern for the greater good, and unlimited opportunity. About agreeing to disagree and civility and taking the blinders off to see the bigger picture.

I hope we listen to them.

P.S.  I took the above picture at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France in 2014.