My dad was a simple, quiet man who never talked much about fighting in the war. I knew that he was in the second wave on Omaha Beach, but I knew very little about his experiences there. There was a French tour guide nearby waiting for his group to assemble. I asked him a question about the timing of the battle and told him that my dad was there. He confirmed that the second wave had landed on June 8, not June 6. Standing on this now silent battlefield, I was brought to tears while recounting to this stranger the few memories voiced by my dad in the last months of his life. He said that he was 25 and had never been out of Richmond, Virginia when he found himself landing on a beach in France. He was scared. Some guys were getting sick. The landing craft was bouncing on the rough waves and he just knew that when the door fell open, he was going to die. He said that when he waded into the water, he had to push past the floating bodies of dead soldiers.
I had never thought of my dad as a hero until that very moment as I realized, standing on this foreign land, just what he had been a part of.
When I looked up, there was a small crowd gathered around me listening to the few things that I knew of my dad’s service and thanking me for liberating their country, a sentiment echoed many times to us as we walked the streets of the nearby villages of Caen and Bayeux when someone realized that we were Americans.
There was a group of French school children nearby, laughing and running through the bombed out turrets and trenches forever frozen in time. I remarked that they didn’t even realize that they were on hallowed ground, much like my own oblivious attitude toward the faded discharge on the wall. A lovely French lady touched my arm and began to apologize for the children. I stopped her mid-sentence, saying no. These children, this freedom is exactly what my dad fought for so many years ago. The future of France’s children. It was a beautiful experience to see over 70 years later how much the people of France appreciated our help and revered the sacrifice of their liberators.
Nearby is the American cemetery where over 9,000 white crosses stand at attention guarding the meticulously maintained final resting places of our fallen heroes of the battle of Normandy. There are museums about the battles scattered upon the cliffs and in the small villages nearby. There was a statue of General Dwight Eisenhower in the circle outside our hotel in Bayeux.
Americans, Canadians and the British are respected, admired and honored for what they did for this country.
Back inside the museum, I signed the guest book as written proof that I had indeed passed through this memorial of a historic battle to rid the world of fascism. My eyes wandered to the last comment before the blank area on the page waiting for my signature. It read: “The best of America. May she become noble again.” More tears.
By Mary Sharpe.