|VETERANS DAY 2016
Veterans Day – 2016
A few weeks ago I was in France, slowly winding my way from Paris to Normandy and another visit to Omaha Beach.
Along the way I visited some typical tourist sites – Notre Dame, Versailles, Monet’s home and many other places. But nothing – NOTHING is like being on Omaha Beach.
It was my third visit to arguably the most key battlefield of World War II. The first is when I was in college and was invited to spend the summer with my father, an Army colonel, the first time I had met the man. But that’s another story.
The second time was about 15 years ago with my wife and teenagers. I had planned the trip to arrive on a D-Day anniversary. French villagers turned out by the hundreds to welcome the Americans. One older French woman gave me her photo as a young child and explained that she had made the dress she was wearing from an American parachute she found in her back yard during the invasion. She hugged me and thanked me. There were many stories like that.
No matter the season, I don’t ever remember Omaha Beach not being chilly, windy and rainy. This was the case on my most recent visit. We were with a group of perhaps 50 people. A French woman who oversees the area greeted us and offered a ceremonial greeting. It began with a playing of our national anthem, which we are sang softly in the rain. Then a playing of TAPS for the more than 9,000 soldiers buried there. If you saw the opening of “Saving Private Ryan,” you’ve seen it. None of us were dry-eyed.
Soldiers – and I am one – often have flashbacks at times like this. Mine was to a time in December, 1967, as I stood on the island of Guam in the South Pacific, having just completed my 160th bombing mission in Vietnam. My crew and I were watching Bob Hope and his Christmas show in the pouring rain. Never one to show my emotions, I found myself crying uncontrollably. I’ll never forget that night.
I was brought back to the present when our hostess offered each of us a rose which we could place on any of the graves stretching out almost endlessly before us. As luck would have it, we came upon a small British group from the Red Cross honoring a nurse’s grave site. They asked us to join them. My wife Cathy, a very proud nurse, was certain this was a sign and our small group of friends laid our flowers on this woman’s site. We walked back to our buses silently in the rain.
During that walk I thought about my friend Morley Piper who, as a 19 year-old 2nd Lieutenant, led his men onto that bloody beach in 1944 and returned 70 years later to honor them and remember. I wondered again how this country has ever been so fortunate to find the men and women who have bravely fought our battles over so many years. It never fails to amaze me.
You will read many eloquent statements on this Veterans Day. This is not one of them. Just a memory from an old soldier.