Why We Sacrifice

The following essays are dedicated to the men and women who have served and are serving in the United States Armed Forces in honor of Veteran’s Day ~ 11/11/11

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement, who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

 ~ Theodore Roosevelt 

Why We Sacrifice

A Decision Point ~ Onward to Normandy

My husband’s voice was muffled by the satellite phone but I could still hear his sense of urgency. “I really want to go to Normandy”, he said.

As an expat child, growing up in Switzerland, he had been to Normandy when he was young so his memories were vague.  I think his desire to return was influenced by fatherhood. Raising a history buff that devoured every book and movie associated with World War II had given us a new appreciation for the men and women who lived and served during this turning point in world history. I wish I had a penny for every time we watched The Longest Day or Band of Brothers. My desire to visit Normandy also stemmed from a natural interest in the history of that period. My father’s memorabilia from his time of service in the Army Air Corp always captured my curiosity. I was fascinated by his uniform, his photos, the ornate German beer steins and the ominous German army helmet he brought back from the war. Our history buff child was now a young army lieutenant and our circle of family and friends had come to include many men and women who had served or were serving in the Armed Forces. For us, Normandy had taken on a more personal significance.

We had twelve days to spend in Europe, much of it already planned. Finding extra time to travel to the Brittany coast would be a challenge. My daughter was already going to be a truant, she was missing more school than her spring break allowed. Fortunately, being an expat has its advantages when it comes to school attendance. Global life means being on the move. Something that is more tolerated in international schools. I knew we would regret missing the chance to see Normandy. If there was a way, I was determined to put my research skills to work and find it.

My initial internet searches were not very promising. Most travel forums indicated Normandy was a two or three-day visit, involving the five-hour ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre, then renting a car or taking a bus. Not possible with our schedule. We were taking the Eurostar from London to Paris for a four-day stay. It was possible to rent a car and drive from Paris but that would be expensive and more time-consuming. For some reason I kept imagining us lost in the French countryside, in the dark, trying to find our way back to Paris. Under different circumstances that would be fun, even romantic…but not this time.

My searches finally led me to a recommendation on Rick Steves  website for D-Day Battle Tours. The story of the proprietor, Mr. Ellewood von Seibold, and the exuberant reviews of his private tours of the region held promise. After a few email exchanges, we were set to travel by train from Paris, for an all day, private tour of key Normandy sites that included the town of Sainte Mere Eglise, Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Pointe Du Hoc and the American Cemetery.

A Time to Ponder ~ Paris to Carentan

After completing the London phase of our trip we took the Eurostar to Paris. Our four days in Paris were filled with museums, river cruises, the Eiffel Tower at night and a fabulous Fat Tire Bike Tour to Versailles. We set aside an entire day for our trip to Normandy and dawn came early as we raced to catch the 7:10am train from Paris-St. Lazare station  to Carentan.  This two-hour ride is relaxing and the scenery is beautiful. Much about the towns in this rural region of France seem untouched by modern life. Today the rolling hills of the Normandy countryside are peaceful; its windswept beaches are quiet. I suppose if God had directed human history down another path, perhaps Normandy would be known more for its Camembert, Calvados and Cider. Maybe even its seaside resorts. That was not to be. As we cruised along at 200kph there was time to contemplate what we were going to experience.

It’s hard to describe the feelings associated with a visit to Normandy. It certainly isn’t the normal excitement you experience when going somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, like Hawaii or Disney World. It’s kind of an uneasy anticipation. For me, it was an overwhelming awareness of the great sacrifice that occurred there. Today, the region is synonymous with a free Europe, gained through the spilled blood of allied soldiers during the D-Day invasion of World War II, June 6, 1944.  As an American I felt sadness and pride, for the thousands of men who gave their lives, for each other and for freedom.

During our train ride, the sunny April day had turned cold and windy. When we arrived in Carentan, the skies were overcast, adding grayness to our already subdued mood. Our guide, Trevor, collected us at the train station and after a few brief introductions, we were on our way.

A Town’s Perpetual Testimony ~ Sainte Mere Eglise

Our first stop in Sainte Mere Eglise was like stepping back in time. Bullet marks still riddle the wrought iron fences and buildings still bear the signs of the fighting that occurred on that fateful day in June of 1944. Under German occupation, the citizens of this strategically important location were confined to their homes in black out conditions the night paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions approached from overhead. Low visibility, anti-aircraft fire, and concerns about fuel caused allied planes to drop paratroopers at too high a speed and off target. In the ensuing chaos, men landed in and around the town square and Sainte Mere Eglise Church. Many were separated from their gear, their units and their leadership. On this night, darkness that normally would have provided concealment for paratroopers was eliminated by a house fire in the center of town. The soldiers became highly visible targets for German troops below and many were picked off one by one as they landed. In spite of this, these men, in addition to lightly armed reinforcements from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment took and held the town until tanks arrived from Utah Beach two days later, thus giving them the distinction of becoming the first  to be liberated in the D-Day invasion.

A Film’s Poignant Testament ~ Battle for Liberty