(HOST) On June 6th, 1944 allied forces stormed the beachheads of Normandy. Germany surrendered 11 months later, but the end of the war began with the Allied Invasion of France. Commentator Stephanie Montgomery offers her thoughts for the 61st anniversary of D-Day.
(MONTGOMERY) In 1979, I accompanied my parents to Norman- dy. We toured cathedrals and castles, but Dad wanted to see the D-Day bunkers and visit the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. My father had served with the Army Air Force in Egypt and Italy. I thought his interest was only historical, but I was wrong.
The cemetery ensures a dramatic arrival upon hallowed ground. Like every visitor, we saw only tall, Austrian pines and rugosa roses until we rounded a corner. And there, spreading out so meek, so mild, stood 9,387 white marble headstones. These markers radiate out over 172 tranquil acres to the evergreen-lined cliff. Most of these soldiers had died within sight of this very place, struggling to take the high ground that would liberate France.
My parents and I could not take it all in at first. We stood silent. When Dad let go my hand, he walked forward with a resolute step. He stooped often to read names, keeping his thin shoulders square. Mom and I walked to the belvedere overlooking the peaceful sea.
Anger spilled from her. For the first and only time, I heard the pent-up rage of the war bride who had learned to fend for herself, the young mother who had feared her husband would never see his first-born child.
And when Dad did return from Africa, he had sat on American ground pulling up grass by the handful – weeping, glad, grateful, but ashamed to have left so many of his buddies behind. She add- ed how proud she was of Dad. And proud of America. She said we had done the right thing and, yes, we had paid for it dearly.
My father didn’t know these men by name. Yet he grieved for them as old soldiers will, reminding me each one had sacrificed his chance to lead a productive, loving, peaceful life – all for a greater good. He mourned all the fallen, including the 33 pairs of brothers buried side by side, the father and son, the four women and the 1557 names of the missing.
Glory words came to his lips then, familiar words, but splendid that day. He spoke of sacrifice and courage, freedom and honor. He spoke of common cause and lasting peace.
One great statue, “The Spirit of American Youth,” graces the memorial. A naked young man leaps upward extending one arm toward the sky and the other to his side in a gesture of protection. The people of Normandy understand this statue well. The first to be liberated in 1944, they have passed down a tradition of grati- tude and hospitality toward Americans for three generations now. They do not forget their debt. We should not forget our gift.
I’m Stephanie Montgomery of Walpole, NH.
Stephanie Montgomery is the Director of Memoir Cafe, an online writing service for women. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.