Normandy At Peace

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Before leaving Normandy to swing south of Paris, through Orléans, and east toward the city of Nancy—as Patton’s army had—we made a stop at the American cemetery just west of Omaha, in the town of Colleville-sur-Mer. Unlike the beaches, this place had plenty of visitors. We saw groups of British, French, Canadian, and even Italian tourists, as well as Americans, strolling quietly over the somber, immaculately kept grounds, observing the signs requesting “Silence and Respect.” It is an extraordinarily moving spot, with its perfect rows of clean white crosses and Stars of David expanding out in perfect formation, over the bright green grass toward the stormy gray Atlantic in the distance. On the walls of the memorial are huge ceramic and concrete maps that describe the Allies’ progress from June 1944 through the following May, and below them are the names of the men and women buried here, with the unidentified referred to as “comrades in arms, known but to God.”

We are fortunate that my grandfather isn’t there (though many of the men he tried to save surely are); he died twenty years after the war had ended, when I was still too young to know him. Corny as it sounds, I felt that I did get to know him—and even feel proud of him—during our stay in France. As we sped over the Normandy countryside, touring the sites of some of the century’s most decisive battles while my mom read her father’s words in the front seat of the car, it was clear what a significant role this place played in my own history. It was good to be there.

—Catherine Calhoun