A warm breeze gently ruffled my curly hair as I stood there atop the cliff overlooking the English Channel. It was a beautiful and breathtaking sight. It prompted the question, “How could anything so tragic happen here”? Beneath my feet was well-mowed, lush-green grass and off to my right it extended as far as the eye could see.
But, aligned on this manicured turf were rows and rows of perfectly placed white crosses by the thousands – 9,388 to be exact — the World War ll American Cemetery at the Normandy Beachhead Battle site. I was standing where the largest amassment of military hardware ever in the history of the world took place - D-day: 5,000 ships, 4,127 landing crafts, 13,000 aircraft, 132,000 invasion troops, and 24,000 paratroopers. June 6, 1944 was the date (75 years ago), a most atrocious and bloody battle.
The day of my visit was 14 years after that battle (July 1958). I was about to celebrate my 25th birthday; a celebration few if any buried there ever celebrated; never to live so long. It was a horrifically emotional experience for me viewing this memorable site on that windswept slope.
Beneath each cross was the mortally wounded remains of a soldier who gave all and everything at the brink of his youth – his time, talent, marriage, children and career. In a moment all those anticipated promises vanished. Each slain soldier laid beneath a white cross that glistened in the sun, radiating the Divine promise of an endless life afforded anyone who so gives up his earthly stay that others might have it; his life of freedom and peace that others might enjoy them.
As I stood there I realized I was a recipient of life and freedom purchased by their suffering, bloodshed and death. I thought if I was ever to walk on sacred soil it was then and there; a soil so drenched in young blood for my sake. There I stood helplessly reflecting - unable to express gratitude in proportion to their giving. Who in all America, besides those who have experienced this lose, can fully comprehend and appreciate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit?
The only comfort I experienced in my pondering there on that northern shore of France, was knowing that the Author of Life is never out done in generosity; that his reciprocating love and life to each who lay there so honorably dead, is for endless time.
With tears welling on my cheeks, I peered down the long rows of crosses, calculating the endless wailing and weeping of those dear to a certain hero entombed beneath a cross. A new widow, a new orphan, a mother and father or a sibling – receive that most dreaded announcement – “Your husband (father, son, brother) has been killed in action”. He would never be coming home.
The cost of democracy and freedom (in this case crushing the infamous Nazi regime), that I am so prone to take for granted, are purchased at a price beyond calculation; requiring pausing, pondering and praying… even shedding tears atop that cliff.
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and retired professor of psychology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.