“This is not tourism. This is honoring the memory of our veterans.” …. Alan, tour director for Overland Band of Brothers Tour
It’s been a long day, and we’re now back in our Paris apartment after a train trip from Bayeux. My head is swirling from all we saw and heard about today in Normandy, on our all-day Overlord Band of Brothers Tour.
We’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan”, the “Band of Brothers” series, and attended a lecture on D-Day. But today was real. We drove through the peaceful French countryside. We walked on the sands of the beaches, on the quiet paths of the American cemetery. On the streets of the villages of Ste. Mere Eglise and Carentan, we saw the charming stone houses and churches.
The cemetery broke my heart. The words on this cross reads, “Here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms known only to God.” Just who is the man under this cross? Where was his home town? Who were his mom and his dad? How did they endure the terrible loss of their boy? Did he have a girlfriend? A wife? Did she grieve forever, or did she find another love? Who might this young man have become, had he lived past the age of eighteen or so?
Alan, our guide, deliberately used the word “boys” — not soldiers, or GIs, or men. Everywhere, we saw photos of fresh-faced teenagers loaded down with heavy gear, ready to jump out of the sky into enemy fire, and others who should have been hanging out at the corner soda fountain, heading for Omaha Beach in an LST.
The stories of the French people were gut-wrenching, too. In this pretty countryside, where cows grazed, and farmers planted corn and apples, the Germans destroyed homes and laid land mines. Old churches and homes were blown to bits or strafed with with machine guns. Under a war monument in Carentan, Alan showed us a photo of a American medal ceremony held on June 23 in the town square. In the photo was a pretty little girl named Laisley, grinning, standing next to a GI. Her name is carved into the memorial monument, because she was killed later that evening by German fire.
There were so many stories today… stories of leadership, of luck — both good and bad, of heroism and courage, of coincidence and of fate, of tragedy and of happy endings. Store windows throughout the region are painted with murals celebrating seventy years since the liberation. I’m not sure what to make of it all. If this had been the last war, there might be some consolation in the huge losses of lives. But it wasn’t, and today our world continues on this path. The words of the Temptations’ 1969 song rings in my head.
“War…. What is it good for?…… Absolutely nothing.”