The summer of 2003, my family toured Normandy where, 59 years before, American, Canadian, and British forces landed along a 50-mile stretch of coast in the quest to liberate German-occupied France.
We visited war memorials and monuments. We viewed Omaha Beach from atop 150-foot cliffs where remains of German gun emplacements and bunkers still stand, and we came to understand why the US 29th Infantry Division suffered such massive losses. We saw La Pointe du Hoc, the 115-foot wall of rock overlooking the beaches that claimed the lives of of all but 90 of 225 US Rangers who scaled it to capture the German battery on top. And we visited the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, where rows of perfectly aligned white crosses mark the graves of 9,387 American soldiers.
We also spent time in the small village of Sainte-Mère-Église, the first town liberated in France. Within the village’s 11th century church, two stained-glass windows are dedicated to the liberators: American paratroopers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. One of the two windows, pictured above, depicts Saint Michael, the patron saint of paratroopers. It was dedicated in 1972, at the 28th anniversary of D-Day. The inscription at the bottom reads: “To the memory of those who through their sacrifice liberated Sainte-Mère-Église.”
Visiting this area was an eye-opening and emotional experience. No amount of book-reading or movie-viewing is as powerful in understanding the enormity of what these brave men did as is seeing with your own eyes the landscapes they encountered that day. Seeing the beaches, the cliffs, the remnants of gun batteries, and rows upon rows of white crosses standing solemnly atop bright green grass are memories that will stay with me forever.