Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by the World War II generation. In many cases, I prefer classic television over modern shows – back when fathers were portrayed as strong and wise, and mothers were feminine, kind, and nurturing. Just today, I found myself watching a black and white cooking show and longing to know what it was like to live in simpler times.
I suppose “simpler” is in the eye of the beholder. Those living through World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and the Korean War probably did not consider the early and mid-portions of the twentieth century to be all that simple. However, that generation was strong – “the greatest generation.” They did not have life handed to them on a platter. They worked. Men were expected to rise up and fight. Women were expected to hold everything together while their men were away – and to do it with grace and dignity.
By the time I came along in the early 80s, the greatest generation was starting to retire. Their children, the “baby boomers,” were making their way in the workplace and most of the children I knew had it relatively easy. We were not rich, but we did not have any idea what it was like to live in such unsteady times. Those who fought in the 1940s and 1950s came home and raised success-driven children – my parents’ generation. By the time my cousins and I were born, World War II was but a distant memory and something we occasionally heard about from “old” people.
Just after the turn of the twenty-first century, a D-Day Memorial was built in Bedford, VA, approximately thirty minutes from where I live. Many times, I have seen the flags flying from the highway as I whisked past; but, until a few Saturdays ago, I never stopped to explore it. Groupon came to the rescue and offered a four person walking tour for half price; so, we bought it and made an afternoon of it with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
We checked in, got Ramsey squared away in a shaded kennel behind the gift shop and started our tour. Our guide was an older gentleman who was very knowledgeable about all things D-Day. I think I would have to audit a college course on World War II and take his tour another ten times to fully digest all the information he gave us; but, even though I did not grasp everything he said, the gorgeous sculptures and landscaping offered a pleasant distraction. ~smile~ I even sneaked in a selfie with my buddy Harry Truman.
It Is So Hot!
Though the memorial itself was extremely beautiful, the sun could not help but bear down on us as we walked along the concrete. Sweat has a way of distracting the mind! (The child inside me wanted to jump into the memorial fountain and cool off.)
As is often the case when I begin to grumble about my circumstances, I am reminded of those who have it far worse. Yes, I was hot. We were all hot. Yes, we felt gross and were ready to enjoy the ecstasy of our vehicles’ powerful air-conditioning units. However, we were there by choice. We were spending our Saturday at the D-Day Memorial because we have the freedom to decide where to go and what to do. Why do we have these freedoms? Because brave soldiers were willing to give everything they had to secure those freedoms.
“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
I imagine they endured obscene temperatures, the foulest smells, the most gut-wrenching scenes, and the vilest of living conditions. I cannot imagine the strength and determination it takes to fight a war. Surely, I can endure an hour in the sun to say “thank you,” and to pay tribute to their sacrifice.
A Terrifying Day Brought to Life
The most memorable part of the memorial was the re-created Normandy shoreline and the sculptures of soldiers fighting on D-Day. Picture 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops invading five beaches along a fifty mile stretch of France’s Normandy region. D-Day, June 6th, 1944, was the beginning of the Normandy invasion (June – August, 1944) which ultimately resulted in Western Europe being freed from Nazi control. The History channel says many refer to D-Day as, “the beginning of the end of the war in Europe.”
Though I think the image would stay with me forever, there is a part of me which wishes I could have witnessed an aerial view of this unbelievable surprise attack. The Allies had gone to great lengths to fool the Germans into believing they were going to attack other places such as Pas-de-Calais and Norway. Can you imagine 156,000 soldiers invading a fifty mile coastline from the air and sea in one day?! What a sight that must have been – both heartbreaking and majestic.
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” – General Dwight Eisenhower
In Honor of the Those Who Lost the Love of Their Lives
As we neared the end of our tour, our guide told us about a local widow who buried her husband, a veteran, around the time the D-Day Memorial was being built. She told the sculptor she wanted her husband’s wedding band to be incorporated into the memorial. It was (and is) a tribute to the wives, fiancées, and girlfriends whose other halves never returned home. The sculptor created a statue of three soldiers in combat. On one of the soldier’s fingers, he placed the gold wedding band.
As thankful as I am for those who gave everything, and to those who are willing to give everything in our current Armed Forces, I cannot forget the families who were (and are) home praying for their loved ones’ safe returns. The soldiers may do the fighting, but the ones left behind at home are fighting a different war – an emotional battle which keeps them up nights, invades their dreams, distracts them at work, and leaves them with knots in their stomachs. I greatly respect the spouses of our soldiers and think they possess a strength which many overlook.
To those sweethearts who have ever had to watch half of your heart board a train or plane for a distant land, thank you for your sacrifice. You keep your homes running even when you want to fall apart and I greatly admire you.
Is There a Silver Lining?
As I was thinking about World War II and admiring the D-Day Memorial, it occurred to me that neither my husband nor I would be alive today if it were not for World War II. Eric’s grandfather, a German Jew, met Eric’s grandmother in Italy when he was fleeing from, and then fighting against, the Nazis. As for me, my great uncle met my grandfather during World War II and gave him a picture of his sister, my grandmother. Both couples were married and would have never known each other had it not been for the horrors of war.
I wonder how many of us can trace our very existence to the aftermath of war? I cannot think of anything closer to Hell on Earth than World War II (and all other wars); yet, realizing how many lives came into the world as a result reminds me that God is still sovereign and on the throne. He is in control when our lives are tranquil and peaceful; He is in control when we feel everything we love being sucked away from us.
I sense that we are stepping into some very uncertain times again in our country and around the world. There is no way of knowing what we will have to endure along the way, but we can be sure of one unchanging truth: God is still on His throne and nothing takes Him by surprise. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knows when our lives will begin and end. He is the only one in control.
In the Words of Dwight D. Eisenhower
Visiting the D-Day Memorial and taking the time to study history challenges my self-centered thinking and reminds me of the insignificance of my first-world problems. If you are ever in the central Virginia area, I would recommend stopping by for a visit with your sweetie. If you get to go out on a date this weekend, thank a soldier. If you are dreaming of your future, thank a soldier. If you are planning your dream wedding, thank a soldier.
This Experience Friday was more on a somber note in comparison to the others from this year, but a few sobering reminders of why we are free (and why we should not sit idly by while our freedoms are stripped from us) is something we all need from time to time.
I will leave you with this quote from the end of Eisenhower’s official D-Day invasion orders to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the allied expeditionary force: “I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Which historical landmarks and memorials would you like to visit with your special someone?