We left our London flat at midnight, in order to catch the 2am train bound for France, via the ‘Chunnel’.  A 31.4 mile rail ride under the English Channel, and a three hour drive once off the train, brought us to Normandy, France, home of the WWII D-Day landing beaches.

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You can manufacture weapons
And you can purchase ammunition
But you can’t buy valor
And you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line

Welcoming us to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-mer, stood tall this statement, by Sergeant John B Ellery (1920-2001).

On 6 June 1944, Allies invaded France, the largest seaborne invasion in history, landing American, British, and Canadian troops on Normandy’s Atlantic coast.  The Germans were prepared for the landing, and on Omaha Beach, below where the American Cemetery now stands, the Allies were hit hardest.  10,000 Ally soldiers died on D-Day alone.  And by the end of the invasion, which led to the eventual liberation of France from Nazi control, an estimated “29,000 American soldiers had given their lives at Normandy” (Corky Siemaszko, nydailynews.com).

A soldier wrote home, “Stop worrying about me… I intend to fight.  I shall die fighting.  But don’t worry about this because no war can be won without young men dying.  Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.”  (David Kenyon Webster, Band of Brothers)

The land overlooking Omaha Beach was granted to the United States by the French, free of taxes or fees.  It remains under the management of the United States of America today, and the American flag flies above.  The memorial is kept, impeccably, and the day of our visit, the site inspired quiet gratitude in each of us – a reverence, really.  An allegiance.

I took pictures of the children wandering among the almost 10,000 white marble crosses, where the American servicemen were buried after the battle of Normandy.  Each body buried, one by one, and each cross marked, where possible, with the soldier’s name.  L noted the names, and the states represented, and found those with whom he shared either.  E took notes, and sketched the view in her travel journal.

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In addition to the white crosses, the names of 1,557 soldiers who lost their lives at Normandy, but could not be located or identified, are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden at the east side of the memorial.

We took the children along, through the memorial museums in Normandy and the grave markers, overlooking Omaha Beach and the ensuing monuments. Sobering. We discussed war and bloodshed. We discussed the sanctity of life.  Bryant and I taught the children that we can fight and we do fight – in memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Title of Liberty).

My Grampa Holmes had served in the Air Force.  Bryant’s father served in the Army.  The children have Great-Uncles who have served.  And my brother in law is currently serving in the United States Air Force.  He sent us an email from Afghanistan:

27 Jan 2014
Things are going ok for me here in Afghanistan.  I’m working about 90 hours a week and the time feels like it is going by quickly.  This time around … I get to actually function as a physician, so that is nice.  I am in charge of keeping our combat medics healthy, trained and ready to do their mission.  We fly around in the HH-60 helicopter.  These airmen that I work with are amazing and I feel honored to work along side them…  Quite of a few of these men and women have given their lives to save others that are in peril.  There is a plaque in our hallway here with the names of those individuals, to remember and honor them.  It humbles me to hear their stories and how selfless they are. 

I am grateful for the valor of others, past and present.  God bless those who serve with valor and honour, in their Armed Forces.

We took the children to the Memorial of Caen.  It was thorough.  We hurried the children through exibits we didn’t find age appropriate.  The museum was instructive, and awe inspiring, for every member of the family. And the children were incredibly observant.

I was surprised how familiar E was with the events of WWII. She reads around-the-clock, and from such varied books. I watched as she put things together throughout the afternoon.

Spending just one afternoon in Normandy cannot do this sacred ground justice.  Nor can one blog post on one travel blog.

Rick Steves, on the other hand, does a respectable job at it!

If we were to return, at Rick Steves’ urging, we would take the children to the less heralded German Cemetery.  “The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he comes from, and if he really was evil at heart. What… led him on this long march from home, and would he not rather have stayed there… in peace?” (JRR Tolken, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers)

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(Oh, and L got a nose bleed outside the war museum.  He’s kind of proud of that.)