An American in France

I always thought I was such a hotshot for taking Advanced Placement American History courses in high school, and I thought I knew so much more than everyone else because of it. Yesterday I visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in the small coastal town of Colleville-sur-Mer in France, and I felt like the furthest thing from a hotshot. In fact, I was humbled in realizing everything I’d read in textbooks paled to translucence in comparison to seeing and hearing how history was really made.

ReflectionPool

The cemetery and memorial were built on land that France has granted use of in perpetuity…forever…”a permanent burial ground without charge or taxation” to honor the American soldiers who lost their lives liberating France from Nazi German forces. The cemetery sits just above Omaha Beach, one of five beaches that British and Canadian forces landed on along the Normandy coastline on D-Day. If this all sounds familiar to you, as it did to me, then we’ve just touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Beaches

“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we ask…was enough…soil in which to bury our gallant dead.” General Mark W. Clark

GeneralMarkWClark

This quote among so many others graced the walls at the site, but was placed at the entrance to the actual cemetery. It wasn’t until the end of the tour that I understood its meaning and significance. Close to 14,000 American families had chosen to have their loved ones brought back to the U.S. for burial, and more than 9,000 had made the ultimate decision to have their fallen soldiers buried in France. I stood in awe, of those families and their heartbreak as I took this photo.

Graves

I took away with me the reality, in context and photos below, of the 14 graves belonging to soldiers of Jewish faith…of the more than 300 soldiers whose bodies were buried here without identities, and  “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God” inscribed on their graves…of the more than 1,500 names inscribed on the walls of The Garden of the Missing, honoring those missing in action whose identities were confirmed yet no bodies to bury along with.

TheStarofDavid-TheUnknown-TheGardenoftheMissing

Everywhere I turned there were statues and flags and reminders of what was lost so long ago. And then I turned around and was reminded of what could be found once again, the sight of my little Noah, so innocently and vibrantly crawling upon the lawn…the promise of a better future thanks to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for good and who continue to do so today.

NoahNACM

I promised myself to be sure to show this photo to Noah when he’s old enough to understand just how sacred the ground was, that he was sitting on yesterday.

Always dishing,

Jun

P.S. Before we arrived at the Normandy American Ceremony and Memorial we visited the Arromanches D-Day Museum in the town of Arromanches-les-Bains, off Gold Beach where British forces had once landed. Not only were we disappointed, but we felt cheated of our entrance fee as their two gift shops took up most of the space in the museum. I’d recommend researching museums thoroughly before adding them to your itinerary.

23 Comments

  1. Absolutely Beautiful!! My mother & brother are buried in a military cemetary and I am always in awe of how well kept it always is….here they use crosses in the US they use small head stones all place ever so perfectly apart and the grounds are always very well maintained.

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  2. kcsmum

    The photo of Noah is overwhelming. The others are beautiful, thought-provoking and peaceful. I recently learned that my Uncle Jim was two days shy of his 18th birthday when he landed at Omaha Beach. I always thought he was nearly 20 but in reality, he lied about his age to get into the Navy. To fight for the cause. Amazing. Thank you. Jun, for bringing me to Normandy.

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  3. purrwing

    Beautiful blog! I know exactly how you feel being in a foreign land and finding a small (huge) part of America. It is definitely awe inspiring to stand amongst men who lost their lives fighting, not only for our freedom, but for the freedom of people thousand of miles away. I do have to ask though, what was Davy’s reaction? I would think it’s different. I am going to post a few (seriously, just a few, which is more than a couple and slightly less than a slew) of my cemetery pictures from Italy on FB and tag you in them. I think you will be shocked at how eerily similar they are, except for your backdrop of the sea and mine of vineyards. 🙂

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    1. Jun Song Author

      Davy understood my reaction to everything I was seeing and hearing, and he was awed by the beauty and true memorializing of good people. But I know it hit me deeper. He made sure to keep a watch on Noah so I wouldn’t miss a part of the speaking tour :). I love him for it. I learned so much!

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  4. Those pictures are beautiful Jun! Especially for those of us who have heard the stories of those places but have never seen them in person…My Grandpa was a member of the Army’s 94th General Hospital Unit and was there that day at Normandy…His stories of the harrowing heartbreak that he had to endure trying to rescue the injured that day were always overwhelming to me and this just cements that. I wish he was here with us still today so that I could show him your pictures…I’m sure he would love them! Those men and women truly were members of the greatest generation and I’m thankful everyday that I had two Grandpas willing to share their stories with me. One of them is still with us and was just a 18 year old kid who liberated the Nazi prison camp at Buchenwald. His stories are also horrific…but both sets of stories teach all of us a very important lesson…

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    1. Jun Song Author

      Yes I agree Erika. I never appreciated enough what I was quizzed on in classes, but being on sacred ground really brought everything back to perspective :).

      Thank you for sharing your grandpa’s story. He truly was part of a cool generation. History and family history are so important!

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  5. Karen

    WOW! {{{Jun}}} ~Your photos are profoundly beautiful… your writing is inspiring and thought provoking. Your reader is blessed by the gift of your presence. Thanks for all you share with us! 🙂

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    1. Jun Song Author

      Thank you Karen. I was so affected that day, or I wouldn’t usually write about cemeteries 🙂 But the site held inspiration so I’m glad you enjoyed the piece 🙂

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  6. Patricia

    I visited Normandy with my husband and daughter two years ago. It is an experience that I will never forget. We stayed in Caen and visited a WWII museum there that was excellent. I recommend that to visitors.

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    1. Jun Song Author

      Never will I. There’s a cemetery here in Belgium too, for American soldiers. I’ll be visiting there also. Bringing my history textbooks to life in Europe is something I thought I’d never do.

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  7. Thank you. for the first time I could feel the enormity of it all – and the pain the families must have felt. Wasn’t just in a history book – you brought it up close and real. Seeing your Noah there too….so many emotions, and glad he’ll have that photo forever.

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    1. Jun Song Author

      Yes, exactly, I didn’t realize how it would hit me. Enormity. It was an odd feeling that I had no control over. I felt so humbled out of nowhere. 🙂

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  8. Lynda Perky

    Wow my Dad was in the Pacific and would not talk about the war until he was 70 years old. Your grasp on this boggles my mind. I had no idea France donated the use of the land, that there was a cemetery , or even that it was to honor American soldiers that truly is touching. Unlike you history bored me so I am embarrassed at how little I know. Thanks.

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  9. Jmantyger

    I traveled there in 2004 with my best friend-to see places in Europe where his father and my grandfather fought. His (then) 17 year old father landed on D-Day and fought in Normandy. His father’s best friend, who my friend is named for, was killed not long after D-day; and, is buried in that same cemetery. We found his grave and paid our respects. As we wandered the grounds, we saw 3 or 4 older men kneeling at various graves, crying openly and unashamedly. We introduced ourselves, grieved and laughed with most of them. None of them knew my friend’s father, his father’s friend or my grandfather. But, as we drove away, my friend and I agreed they did know them. And they knew them in ways he and I never could.

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  10. Liz D

    This is a belated comment, as I read through your blog posts and had to leave a comment! On a backpacking trip through Europe last summer (2012) my boyfriend and I did a full day trip from Paris to this area, organized through the D-Day museum in Caen. It’s unfortunate the museum you visited was a disappointment – but I would strongly recommend visiting the one in Caen… it’s laid out in a smart way and there’s so much information and thought put into it all. I would do the tour and museum all over again in a heartbeat.

    http://normandy.memorial-caen.com/

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  11. You never cease to amaze me with your reflection on subject and your ability to bring it to life in your precise verbiage . I felt a similar feeling as I stood at Arlington National Cementry, I had seen pictures of it my entire life but nothing prepared me for the magnitude of white crosses.

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