I’m trying to capture what I saw and felt in Normandy this past weekend and I’m having a hard time with it, because mere words and pictures don’t do it justice. I’m just so thankful that I had the chance to go and physically be there to see what our guys experienced and to see the crosses in the American cemetery there on that quiet, peaceful bluff situated two hundred feet above the English Channel.
The emotional impact is both a humbling and embarrassing experience – humbling because of what those men gave of themselves and embarrassing that we are working to give away what they paid such a terrible price to secure for us…I simply cannot imagine the sense of duty and courage it took for those waves of 73,000 American men to storm onto those beaches, then to run headlong across the sand and up those dunes and cliffs toward what surely had to be a maelstrom of lead, steel and exploding ordnance, all hoping for God’s protection but many knowing that they would never leave those beaches alive.
And still they ran toward the enemy.
Many of those crosses were inscribed with a date of June 6, 1944. These were for the young men who never made it off those beaches, men (boys actually) like Private First Class Richard Frank Geigner from Cook County, Illinois. Pfc. Geigner was a member of the 298th Engineer Combat Battalion that was part of the first wave on the beaches with the responsibility of destroying obstacles so that the men and materiel behind him could move faster.
And yet PFC Geigner ran toward the enemy.
For the past week now, I haven’t been able to write more than half a page without stopping due to experiencing equal measures of pride, guilt, anger and determination and not knowing what to do with those feelings.
We owe these men and the families that they left behind. We owe them a debt that cannot be repaid in money or treasure.
We owe it to them to run toward the enemy.
The enemy today is any ideology that compromises the freedom for which a young PFC gave the last full measure of his life on a beach in France over 68 years ago.
Our enemy today doesn’t wear a uniform – yet it is just a deadly.
Our enemy has many faces – complacency, sloth, intellectual laziness, and disregard for natural law.
In a quote sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson (among others), we learn a universal truth:
The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.
We should not give up so easily what was won with so much difficulty.
We dishonor those men who are buried in the peace of foreign soil, those men who fought not for land or dominion over others but for freeing those lands from the dominion of others. In the words of General Mark W. Clark, words inscribed on the wall of the museum at the American Cemetery at St. Laurent:
“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”
Wars are not won by “leading from behind.”
Wars are not won in retreat.
We must run toward the enemy.