Fields of perfectly placed markers in the neatly trimmed grass of the cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy is one of the most emotionally sweeping places I have visited on Earth. Your eyes can see, but your mind refuses to entirely process, the enormity of the sacrifices made by so many Americans during World War II’s Operation Overlord.
Year after year, appropriate ceremonies pay tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of the men buried there. Yet for all the perfect words, none can match the silent statement of the thousands who died on that day of days.
The Normandy American Cemetery is the final resting place of 9,380 Americans – young men who answered the call of their nation in the fight against tyranny. They fought and died on foreign soil in hopes that the war would end there, rather than reach our shores. Each died on June 6, 1944, or in the days immediately following. The names of an additional 1,500 – etched into the Walls of the Missing – are a reminder that war is never a neat and antiseptic affair.
So much has been said and written about these men – the bands of brothers – whose actions and sacrifices liberated Europe, and yet it seems one cannot ever say enough. The valor, the heroism, the bravery, the dignity… it all defies language.
It is also deeply personal for so many. My dad’s dad was a B-17 Flying Fortress tail gunner in the European theater. Like so many others, he had lied about his age to enlist with his brothers in the early days of World War II. From the small west Texas town of Seminole, O.W. Sullivan, Jr., survived being shot down behind enemy lines, and eventually returned home to start life and a family after the war’s conclusion.
Yet many in his generation did not. For many of them, the beaches and fields of Europe were their final resting place. They fought so that we would be free.
They each answered the call of our nation, but they died for their friends on the line and their family at home. They perfectly and nobly embodied the words of Jesus found in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
To them, to their memory, we can only say thank you. And we cannot say it enough.