There is a place so beautiful, so serene it is hard to imagine the violence and bloodshed responsible for its creation. Though located on the Normandy coast of France, it is officially American soil and filled with American soldiers. This quiet and vast plot of land, the Normandy American Cemetery, is set atop a bluff where German guns once pounded infamous Omaha Beach below. As Memorial Day approaches I remember my visit there one year ago.
The American Cemetery is the resting place for thousands of men and women who died on the beaches and in the towns of the Normandy region of France during the D-Day invasion of World War II. The site is a memorial to those who freed France from German occupation and facilitated the end of the war on the European front.
As I walked along the cross-shaped pathways of the memorial, I contemplated the rows and rows of neatly placed crosses stretching out before me, marking the graves of these brave young people. They bear the names of Americans of every ethnicity and religion. They represent all different socio-economic and educational backgrounds. The dates engraved on the marble stones indicate their age, too young to die – much too young. This sad truth is reinforced by the sculpture occupying the center of the main memorial structure. Surrounded by the semi-circular colonnade stands “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”. Inscribed at the base is a line from the beloved Battle Hymn of the Republic.
MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY OF THE COMING OF THE LORD
These words are paraphrased from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24:30, Mark 13:26, and Luke 21:27) and refer to the Lord’s return to earth when perfect justice will preside. The circular Memorial Chapel, located in the graves area, bears an inscription that I believe captures the essence of a memorial.
THEIR GRAVES ARE THE PERMANENT AND VISIBLE SYMBOL OF THEIR HEROIC DEVOTION AND THEIR SACRIFICE IN THE COMMON CAUSE OF HUMANITY
Memorials are meant to be permanent and visible, reminding us that humanity must be defended, urging society to guard against backsliding towards mistakes of the past. The Hebrew and Greek words for “memorial” are derivatives of the phrase “to remember”. In ancient Palestine, where memorials were part of the fabric of life, the idea was much more than just recalling an event. To remember was to interact with the past through thought and reflection in a way that affected present living. Whether they were meant to educate, warn or prompt remembrance of God’s faithfulness, memorials communicated, ‘pay attention, something very important occurred here.’ This is still very true and very applicable in our world today. D.A. Carson puts it this way: “Memory plays an important role in any society. Without a memory a person loses identity, and without a history to sustain it a society and the world around it become virtually phantom. Any society that hopes to endure must become, as sociologists put it, ‘a community of memory and hope’.”
For me, the American Cemetery is a powerful reminder of the tenuousness of our humanity. We live in a perpetually fallen state where evil is always present, but sometimes it rises to the forefront of our existence with unspeakable horror. The aggression, oppression and most horribly, genocide, carried out by the Third Reich against the Jewish people, prompted a worldwide crisis that almost wiped out an entire race and cost millions of lives on the battlefield.
The survivors of the Great War are slowly leaving this earth. Soon, without their voice, the American Cemetery will take on added significance as a lasting reminder of what humans will do to each other and the resulting consequences when tyranny is allowed to prevail. War is never good. However, sometimes combating tyranny requires a response that is equal in power to tyranny’s evil. The soldiers buried on the bluff overlooking their final battle field sacrificed their lives on foreign soil for freedom. Freedom was, is and always will be, costly and painful.
As the afternoon shadows deepened and our visit ended, “Taps” played while the American flag was lowered. Veterans and family members of those buried here are allowed to participate in this solemn ceremony. As I watched I was overwhelmed with emotion. I found myself anticipating the day when my eyes will see the glory of the coming of the Lord, when perfect justice reigns.
This essay is dedicated to the brave, honorable and dedicated men and women who have served and are serving in the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for my freedom.
 Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library (878–879). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
 Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (Jos 4:1–24). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
Beautifully written and so true! Thank you for sharing, Shirley.
It was so great to see you. Miss you dearly.
So sweet! I got teary eyed half-way through and stayed that way through taps! Thank you for the wonderful thoughts for this Memorial weekend. I hope we all “remember then how far you have fallen” before it’s too late.
Dear friend Joanna, Thank you. I know your life experience in Iran gives you and I a certain shared insight into our freedoms. Bless you sister and thank you so much for sharing my blog this week. It means a great deal to me.
Shirley – You have so gracefully captured the importance of remembrance through your words. It is far too easy to forget, even with an event of such overwhelming magnitude as WWII. Thank you.
L., you know where my thoughts were (as were yours) when I wrote this. I lay out the future in prayer everyday.
Beloved, thank you for urging us to remember, to go beyond the holiday to its purpose… to remember, to reflect, and to be affected, and to apply. God uses you mightily to educate and affect us all! Thank you for spurring me on. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” 2 Timothy:8
Dear friend, you know Brian and others were in my thoughts as I wrote this essay. I thank God for you and Mark, and your supportive family as Brian enters his sacrificial service in the years to come. It was so great to see you.
Shirley, thank you for this message of remembrance. As a former Army man and veteran of Viet Nam, I truly appreciate the sacrifice that our fathers made on that day and in the months that followed. My father fought in WW-II and was in France and Germany until Germany’s surrender, he is now 93 and surely one of the last of these great people that did the right thing. I am forwarding your blog to my family in the hopes that one of them will get it to him by Memorial day.
Roger, Thank you for your thoughts. You are appreciated and I honor you and your father for your sacrificial service to our country.
Thank you so much for this moving essay. Canadians actually celebrated their memorial day last week so I’ve been thinking about those who have fought in the past (like my uncle who was a fighter pilot in WWII, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross) and those who serve today, like my brother who is in the Canadian Army along with many friends (in both the US and Canadian military). I am a pacifist at heart but I also understand that, as you point out in your essay, there is evil in the world and we must fight for liberty and freedom.